Baby-milk salmonella strain linked to outbreak in France

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Three babies in France suffering from salmonella poisoning may have the same strand as British children in the recent baby milk powder scare.

According to a French pressure group, which has contacted local health authorities, the three infants suffered in December from the same strain of the illness linked with the Milupa firm a week ago, when one of their products was withdrawn from sale in Britain and Ireland.

At the time the Dutch-owned company said the product linked to the 10 cases in Britain was the Milumel for Hungrier Bottle Fed Babies product, which is only sold in this country.

However, the Direction Generale de la Sante, part of the ministry of health, has told French campaigners that out of the three case of salmonella anatum at least two of the infants had been using Milumel. Another agency has said one of the children had been using a cereal-based Milupa product.

All the products are said to track back to the company's factory in Colmar, northern France.

A spokeswoman for the Public Health Laboratory Service in Britain said they were aware of the French cases, which had come to light after they contacted other European countries over the Salmnet network which exchanges information on outbreaks of the illness.

However, until they were able to carry out genetic "fingerprinting" tests to check if the two outbreaks were related they were unable to confirm any connection. At present there was only a "presumptive" link with the outbreak in Britain.

Pascale Walter, of Action pour l'Allaitment in France, a breast-feeding pressure group, said three different French authorities had confirmed the illnesses.

She said: "I cannot understand why people are so secretive about this. People know there is a problem."

Pattie Rundall, international co-ordinator of Baby Milk Action, said the public needed more information about the problem, which she feared could be much wider than reported.

Dr Colin Michie, consultant paediatrician at Ealing and Hammersmith hospitals, said he had heard of the French cases, which he described as "very worrying".

"It only needs a few organisms to affect an infant. We need to be happy that the factories and products are safe."

The Department of Health, which a week ago called for the withdrawal of the Milumel product after 10 cases of the illness were linked with it, said they were aware of the development but were awaiting news from the French authorities.

A spokeswoman for Milupa said that their Colmar factory had undergone three separate inspections and no problems had been found. She added that the salmonella in France could be a separate strain from that in the British cases, but meanwhile they were co-operating fully with all the authorities.