News / Health

E. Coli Outbreak in Europe Causes Concern in US

An employee holds petri dishes with bacterial strains of EHEC bacteria (bacterium Escherichia coli.) in the microbiological laboratory of the University Clinic Eppendorf- UKE in the northern German town of Hamburg, June 2, 2011
An employee holds petri dishes with bacterial strains of EHEC bacteria (bacterium Escherichia coli.) in the microbiological laboratory of the University Clinic Eppendorf- UKE in the northern German town of Hamburg, June 2, 2011

Multimedia

Chris Simkins

The cause of the E. coli outbreak in Germany remains a mystery.  The outbreak is the deadliest in modern history with at least two-dozens deaths and more than 2,400 people sickened.  Eleven other European nations and the United States also report E. coli cases and say most of the victims had visited Germany.

But some health officials in the United States say it may be just a matter of time before a similar E.coli outbreak happens in the United States. 

International medical researchers are racing to find a cause of the world's deadliest E. coli outbreak that began in Germany May 2.  Experts have been unable to pinpoint the source of a rare super toxic strain of E. coli bacteria that has killed dozens and sickened thousands.  At least four people in America who visited Germany became sick.

Dr. Robynne Chutkan, a Gastroenterologist at Georgetown Hospital in Washington expects more cases in the U.S. soon.

"There is so much international travel between the U.S. and Europe I think it is completely conceivable that in the next few weeks we could be seeing some outbreaks of this potentially new and more virulent strain of E. Coli here in the United States," she said.

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.

The E. coli outbreak in Germany has left hundreds of people hospitalized with life threatening kidney complications.  It comes as U.S. health officials released data showing an increasing number of people were sickened by rare forms of E. coli bacteria in America last year.

Pat Buck is executive director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention.  She founded the organization in 2006 after her grandson Kevin died from eating food tainted with E-coli bacteria.  Buck says more can be done to improve U.S. food safety standards.

"Look at the connections between humans and animals and environments and see where these things connect because it is through the zoonotic diseases importantly that we end up with foodborne illness," she said.

Dr. Chutkan says the nasty form of E. coli hitting Europe illustrates the need for testing more foods in the United States for rare strains of the bacteria.

"One of the frightening and rather challenging aspects that this outbreak has illustrated is that foodborne illness can affect many different types of food and we thought of E. coli in the past as something that has been more strongly associated with meat but now we are seeing it in produce:  tomatoes, cucumbers, potentially sprouts and maybe lettuce," she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has alerted state health departments to the ongoing outbreak and requested information about any people who test positive for the E.coli strain.  The Food and Drug Administration has also stepped up testing of foods imported from affected countries.  There are also new laws in place requiring the FDA to set standards to guard against all kinds of contamination in fresh produce.

Dr. Thomas Tallman, with the Cleveland Clinic Event Medicine, says the E. coli outbreak in Europe should be a wake-up call for people to take extra steps to properly clean fresh vegetables and fruits.

"I buy one of those sprays you can get at the supermarket that you can spray on them and rinse it off right away.  It is not really even a detergent or anything caustic.  But it helps just rinsing them, even just rinsing them with water so you have taken off anything that could be on the fruits and vegetables," he said.

The E.coli outbreak in Europe has led to more pressure from consumer groups for U.S. officials to do more testing for other E. colis in beef.  They also want more stringent regulation over companies that process beef to prevent E. coli contamination at slaughterhouses.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs