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Monday 17th June 2019

Vegetables blamed for E coli outbreak

31st May 2011

Vegetables carrying a deadly strain of E coli are sickening hundreds of people in several regions of Europe, and the disease has killed about a dozen people.


All the illnesses and deaths have so far been the result of haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), an illness that relies on a specific strain of E coli to develop.

Authorities in Germany are warning people that the source of the bacteria may still be active, meaning that the outbreak may worsen.

Enterohaemorrhagic E coli (EHEC), also known as Escherichia coli O104:H4, is a strain of the ubiquitous bacterium that thrives by producing a toxic protein.

The toxin, known as verotoxin, attacks small blood vessels in humans, and can destroy structures in the kidneys, leading to kidney failure in some sufferers.

Verotoxin is similar to the one produced by the Shigella bacterium, earning it the name shiga-like toxin.

In Germany, shoppers at local markets expressed their worries.

One customer said that he would not eat raw vegetables any more, but that he still ate produce which had been steamed or boiled.

HUS is usually rare, but experts believe that there may be thousands of illnesses arising as a result of the bacteria.

The bacteria was also found in lettuce and raw tomatoes.

Officials suspect that organic cucumbers from Spain may be responsible for the bacterial outbreak, but they still do not know for sure where the vegetables came from.

Scientists are also perplexed by the infection pattern of the disease.

HUS usually affects children and elderly, but the strain found in Germany seems to affect mostly adult women.

In addition to being spread through contaminated food, people infected with the bacteria can spread the sickness through food preparation.

Although authorities in Germany believed they had identified the source of the bacteria, Spain's agriculture minister, Rosa Aguilar, said there was no reason to blame the Mediterranean nation.

Aguilar said that the European Commission had made it clear that the contamination could have happened outside the country of origin.

She said that Spain's level of safety and quality was extraordinarily high.

The state of Saarland in Germany responded to news of the outbreak by banning the sale of Spanish cucumbers.

Jochen Winkhoff, who heads the Association of German Vegetable Growers, said that vegetable trading was completely flat in Hamburg.

He said that the association had had to destroy the farmers' produce due to lack of demand.

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