News / Europe

Death Toll Rises in E. Coli Outbreak

German Health Minister Daniel Bahr attends a meeting of the German Federal Parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, June 9, 2011
German Health Minister Daniel Bahr attends a meeting of the German Federal Parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, June 9, 2011

German authorities say the death toll from one Europe's worst E. coli outbreaks is up to at least 26.

They say more than 2,600 have been sickened since late May as a result of the mysterious bacteria. Nearly all the victims live in or visited northern Germany.

E. coli and how it is transmitted

E. coli is an abbreviation for Escherichia, which is a large and diverse group of bacteria. Most strains are harmless, others can cause illness. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. The major source is cattle, but other animals, foods and liquids may spread contamination to people.

  • Shiga toxin-producing E. coli

    This is a dangerous form of E. coli known by the acronym STEC. The best known strain of this STEC (also called 0157) was identified in 1982. Transmission and symptoms are similar to the most common form of E. coli.

  • EHEC

    A very serious infection is enterohaemorrhagic E. coli known by the acronym EHEC. It produces toxins, known as verotoxins or Shiga-like toxins. It may lead to life threatening diseases such as hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

  • HUS

    Scientists believe this is responsible for the European outbreak, originating from a potentially life threatening strain of STEC (0104). HUS afflicts the kidneys, blood and central nervous system.

Authorities have failed to find the cause of the outbreak.  

Overturning initial suspicions, German investigators have ruled out home-grown organic sprouts, as well as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers from Spain. Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar is demanding full compensation from Germany for losses suffered by farmers in her country.

Spanish farmers whose revenue has been hard-hit by the outbreak, on Wednesday gave away some 30 tons of fruit and vegetables to people in Madrid.

After heated discussions Wednesday, EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos raised his aid package offer to $306 million to help farmers recoup some of their losses from unsold vegetables because of the E. coli crisis.  He had initially proposed $220 million in aid.

Russia and some other countries have banned all vegetables from the EU.

Russia is expected to address the E. coli outbreak Thursday,as part of a two day summit with EU leaders in Nizhny Novgord, Russia.

E. coli symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and in extreme cases kidney failure and death.

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