E.coli outbreak:

E.coli: panic grips Germany while Britain waits nervously

Crisis 'not over yet' say health officials

Hospitals in Germany have appealed to the public for more blood donations, as the number of new victims of E.coli rose to almost 100 a day.

The Robert Koch Institute, the main health body investigating the outbreak, said 18 people had been killed by the bug in Germany in the past two weeks. In addition, one person in Sweden has died and more than 1,800 others have been infected around the world.

Four new cases were identified in the UK yesterday, bringing the total to 11 people being treated for the infection. All are from or have visited northern Germany, where experts are desperately working to find the source of the outbreak.

The Koch Institute said hospitals had registered 199 new E.coli infections in Germany since Wednesday and that in 50 of the cases, patients had developed the potentially lethal haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS), a follow-on condition which damages the kidneys and nervous system.

Dr Reinhard Brunkhorst, a leading kidney specialist involved with combating the epidemic, told reporters in Hamburg that hospitals were now seeing fewer new infections reported each day, though cautioned that "it may be less, but it's not over yet".

"There is no reason for hysteria, because it's not spreading and it's not increasing – it's decreasing," he said. He added that specialist treatments given to some patients appeared to be working: "This is just an impression, and it is not the result of a clinical study," he added.

The bug has now also been identified in people in the Czech Republic, France and the United States, as well as Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

The Health Protection Agency in the UK has issued a warning urging people travelling to Germany to avoid eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy salad. It has urged anyone returning from Germany with an illness, including bloody diarrhoea, to seek medical attention.

The World Health Organisation announced on Thursday that its scientists had established that the E.coli bacteria causing the epidemic was not of a type usually associated with such outbreaks. It said its source was a hitherto unknown "aggressive" strain which appeared to have resulted from two E.coli types being crossed. The mutant strain causes dysentery and can seriously damage the nervous system, leading to epileptic fits in severe cases.

Health officials said they were optimistic that the WHO's findings would help them to stop the epidemic. "We hope to find ways of preventing further infections over the coming week," said Professor Dag Harmsen of Münster University Clinic. "We think we will soon have collected enough data to establish what is making this clone so aggressive," he added.

But officials said they still had no idea which food products were carrying the bacteria. The Robert Koch Institute has admitted that the food source "may never be known".

Health investigators have focused on a group of women trade unionists who attended a conference in the city of Lübeck in mid May, where several of them became infected with the bacteria at the same time. But scientists have not been able to find the source of that outbreak.

Andreas Hensel, the head of Germany's Institute for Risk Assessment, said that in the majority of epidemics recorded it had proved impossible to "fish out" the exact source.

In northern Germany, where the epidemic is centred, there was no indication that the crisis was easing. In Hamburg, the city worst hit by the outbreak, the head of the blood donations service issued a fresh public appeal for donors. The city's Eppendorf University Clinic, where the bulk of victims are being treated, has been using blood transfusions to "wash" patients' systems clean of the bacteria. The clinic announced that its stocks were running low. "The stocks need to be replenished," said Lutz Schmidt, Hamburg's chief medical officer.

The Bild newspaper reported last night that police in Hamburg were investigating two food retailers and a restaurant on suspicion that they had sold contaminated vegetables. "The investigation is in connection with the contaminated cucumbers," police told the newspaper.

The cause of the outbreak was initially wrongly sourced to imported Spanish cucumbers which were found to carry some E.coli bacteria, but not the aggressive mutant strain. The incorrect diagnosis prompted several countries to ban the import of Spanish cucumbers. Russia banned all EU vegetable imports. Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to calm Spanish fury by telephoning her Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero yesterday. Spanish fruit and vegetable exporters have said they have lost some 200m euros a week as a result of the ban and that tens of thousands of kilos of produce are being destroyed.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Broker / Purchaser

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'