News / Health

Source of Deadly E. Coli Strain Remains Unknown

A patient, infected with EHEC, lies in his bed in an isolation area of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf - UKE in the northern German town of Hamburg, June 2, 2011
A patient, infected with EHEC, lies in his bed in an isolation area of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf - UKE in the northern German town of Hamburg, June 2, 2011

The World Health Organization reports no progress has been made in identifying the mysterious, lethal strain of E. coli that has infected and killed an unusually large number of people in northern Germany.  Latest WHO figures put the number of global cases at more than 1,800, including 18 deaths.  Of these, more than 1,700 cases and 17 deaths are in Germany.

The World Health Organization reports this deadly new strain of E. coli has spread to 12 countries, since the first infections were reported in northern Germany in mid-May.  

Scientists at laboratories around the world are working to gather information about this rare strain of E. coli, which can cause severe renal failure.  But the source of the massive outbreak remains unknown.

E. Coli Map

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.

One case of person-to-person contact has been identified.  WHO epidemiologist Andrea Ellis says the bacteria is spread from human to human usually from the feces of an animal that is actually consumed by people.

"So, you can imagine that person-to-person transmission can occurr if there is inadequate hygiene," said Ellis. "So, for example, if somebody has diarrhea and uses the washroom, but fails to wash their hands, then that can then transfer bacteria onto surfaces, or even shaking hands and other personal contact that could, in fact, allow person-to-person transmission." 

"So, it is nothing that would be unique to this situation.  It really is more something that we are always concerned about.  And, that is why the messages of washing your hands, paying vigilant attention to proper personal hygiene are always something we want to reinforce in these circumstances," she added.

Dr. Ellis notes until now, all identified cases are linked to northern Germany.  People who got sick and died either have been residents of or travelers to this region.  

"That has been a very unique feature because we were concerned that, of course, with any food-borne outbreak, we are always worried about where else has the food been sold," she said. "And, so, what it seems to be evident up to this moment in time is that, it seems that the exposure that is occurring that is responsible for this seems to be limited to that area.  So, there certainly are no…recommendations from WHO in terms of travel or trade restrictions at this time.  Those would not be warranted."

The outbreak of this fatal illness has triggered panic in Europe.  Consumers stopped buying Spanish cucumbers when German authorities wrongly identified them as the source of the bacteria.  

Russia says it is banning fresh vegetable imports from the European Union - a move that could bankrupt many farmers.

E. coli attacks the kidneys and can cause seizures, strokes and comas.  Dr. Ellis says only about 10 percent of those who get infected from an outbreak of food poisoning suffer severe complications, and most recover.  

In the case of this new strain, she says an unusually high number of victims are affected, and that is very worrying.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More