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
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: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

    £19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

    Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor