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Spanish cucumbers not behind E. coli outbreak

The Local · 31 May 2011, 15:17

Published: 31 May 2011 09:08 GMT+02:00
Updated: 31 May 2011 15:17 GMT+02:00

At least 16 people, including one in Sweden, have died from a virulent form of enterohamorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which can cause bloody diarrhoea and kidney failure known as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).

But contrary to early indications, imported cucumbers from Spain do not appear to be behind the outbreak. Two samples from a Hamburg market contained EHEC bateria but not the deadly O104 strain.

"Our hope to discover the source of serious HUS complications unfortunately was not realized," said Hamburg's Health Minister Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks on Tuesday. "As before, the source remains unidentified."

Prüfer-Storcks, however, defended last week's decision to link the outbreak to Spanish produce.

"Regardless of the result of the two remaining tests, it was right to make public the results of our investigation as the contamination could very well cause EHEC," she said. "It would have been irresponsible with this number of ill people to keep quiet about a well-grounded suspicion. Protecting people's lives is more important than economic interests."

Several European countries have banned Spanish vegetables, sparking criticism from Madrid amid huge losses for Spain's farmers.

Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar denied before the results were released in Hamburg that her country was the source of contamination.

"From the beginning, in Germany, Spanish cucumbers have been named as responsible for this situation. We must say that it is not true and we must demand that the Germany authorities wrap up their investigation immediately," she said.

Aguilar called for a "European solution" and slammed Germany's handling of the outbreak.

The situation is "extremely serious" for the agriculture sector, Aguilar said, estimating Spain's vegetable sale losses at "more than €200 million ($288 million) a week."

The Spanish fruit and vegetable producer-exporter federation said sales have halted across nearly all of Europe as the scare rippled across the continent.

Asked which countries had stopped buying Spanish produce, federation president Jorge Brotons told a news conference: "Almost all Europe. There is a domino effect on all vegetables and fruits."

Germany's Health Minister Daniel Bahr warned earlier on Tuesday that the number of cases is likely to grow. "The infection source remains active and we have to reckon with a growing number of cases."

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease institute, said Tuesday it has recorded 373 confirmed cases of HUS, along with six deaths. But regional authorities, who have been faster in reporting fatalities, said at least 15 people have died in Germany so far, mostly in the north, and more than 1,200 have been infected.

And in Sweden, the Södra Älvsborgs hospital in Boraas said a woman in her fifties who was treated for EHEC after a trip to Germany had died in the first reported fatality outside the country.

The latest reported death in Germany was that of an 87-year-old woman who died in Paderborn in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Hygiene Institute at Münster's University Clinic in western Germany meanwhile announced it had put together a test to quickly identify people infected with the so-called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

The test allows identification within hours of the pathogenic agent in EHEC, the clinic said in a statement.

The agent is "especially virulent and able to resist antibiotics," the hospital said.

"This strand can be described as a hybrid or a chimera that combines different virulent traits," according to Professor Helge Karch from the Münster clinic.

The Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has described the outbreak as "one of the largest worldwide and the largest ever reported in Germany."

Around Europe, other cases - confirmed or suspected - have been reported in Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Spain and Switzerland, all of them apparently stemming from Germany.

The Local/AFP/DPA/mry

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

11:06 May 31, 2011 by Ebolter
" Trembling " ? Just don't eat veggies for a while , cripes !
11:37 May 31, 2011 by harcourt
I recently heard that this contamination primarily comes from animal and bird droppings. But SURELY people normally wash cucumbers together with other vegetables and fruit, bearing in mind how many chemicals that are sprayed on these sort of products. Besides which most cultures would normally peel cucumbers for salads. I do hope the authorities are on the right track !!
12:50 May 31, 2011 by aceroni
Unfortunately, in most places in Germany they will serve you a salad where cucumbers have not been peeled. Also, the problem is not really what people do at home, but what workers do in canteens, restaurants, fast food chains and so on.

Anyway, this strand of e-coli is a human bacteria, it's only found in human feces, ergo, someone must have washed/watered these vegetables in wastewater to save money.
15:04 May 31, 2011 by harcourt
There is another possibility !! I heard only a couple of hours ago that it is common practice all over Europe for vegetable farmers, in order to be economical with water and as a nutrient, to spray crops with water which is tainted or polluted with human sewage. This would explain a lot.
15:23 May 31, 2011 by ovalle3.14
Holy scapegoats, Batman!
15:25 May 31, 2011 by LarsBar
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
16:30 May 31, 2011 by auniquecorn
Well the German health authorities, or might as well just say the German gov´t stepped on their dks again,

LETS just blame the Spaniards until we figure out a game plan.
16:32 May 31, 2011 by ALFV
And now what about this minister?. This kind of hamburguer minister said the Spanish cucumbers are the fault and now she says no, and she is still occuping their position without any problem. She should resign and she should take care the more than 200million week in cancelled orders.

It is too easy to say stupid things without any consequence and without any evidence.

I thought that Germany was a serious country.

16:36 May 31, 2011 by melbournite
hang on.. the cucumbers *only* had *normal* e-coli? What the hell are we eating in any case?
17:04 May 31, 2011 by marimay
Whats going on in that pic? Cucumber autopsy?
19:01 May 31, 2011 by harcourt
Another example of the usual German kneejerk reaction ( the other recently was Fukushima )Whoever said the Germans don't panic !!
20:43 May 31, 2011 by ND1000
What, Germany hit the panic button too soon???? Gasp, that never happens. Spain should nail somebody (or country) to the wall for this one.
21:12 May 31, 2011 by hautnah23
The poor Spanish. As long as no one accuses them of getting e.coli on their strawberries, I think their agriculture economy should be able to bear the brunt of this abuse. I'm just glad I can finally order my Döner with "Salad komplett" once again ;-)
21:48 May 31, 2011 by federicoscala
Who's going to pay for this mistake?
23:36 May 31, 2011 by Bishnu
a 87 year old woman died due to E. coli ! how long otherwise people live? in fact she is lucky enoght to live 87 years old ...isnt it???
06:19 June 1, 2011 by harcourt
Apparently a doctor at the Charite hospital,Berlin has said what must be done is to ask surviving victims what they ate, when did they ate it and then compare results. Really !! I would never have thought of that !! - It should have done days ago before having a go at Spain.
11:09 June 1, 2011 by ValP
@ harcourt : in some other article it was mentioned that people WERE actually asked about what they had eaten, but were too sick to answer.... Made me sort of realize - Jeez, these people must have been REALLY sick - statements like that make you grasp that dying of the E-coli bacteria is actually more than mere statistics....
13:38 June 1, 2011 by harcourt

You're right this illness shouldn't be taken lightly especially as they haven't yet found the cause. As a total layman surely the high percentage of women sufferers MUST be a strong factor worth pursuing.
21:48 June 1, 2011 by ambar
Right now the German goverment has no idea about what the hell is happening. Maybe they should find another one to blame for one week more.
00:55 June 2, 2011 by mamita
In Spain it is not used wastewater for irrigation, even in the golf course is cleared, agriculture and hydroponic irrigation is used in many places groundwater from aquifers.

And if the problem were of Spanish cucumbers, there would be patients in other countries, especially Spain as farmers here have been in contact with that plant. It is clear that all patients are from Germany or have been in Germany, then the focus of infection is Germany.

Excuse my English I do not speak English
22:05 June 5, 2011 by tattooing18
is not a mistake.

you use to blame others for your BIG mistakes, and you pay with your fate.

but you never learn from your mistakes, maybe is your bad d.n.a..

you believe you're the best and you know everything.

you are the biggest joke in history .......

have luck with your new 4rth conquest, but don't wait for mercy this time.

you're unacceptable from the gherkins to the loansharking ........

a tip. learn to wash and peeling what you eat !!!!!!!!!!!!
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