Fall in number of new E.coli cases says Germany

The deadly E.coli outbreak appears to be on the decline, Germany's health minister said today.

Daniel Bahr said that, while he could not give an all-clear over the bacterial infection, a fall in the number of new cases gives reason for hope.

Mr Bahr was talking on ARD Television before a crisis meeting with EU health chief John Dalli and other health officials in Berlin today on the outbreak which has killed 24 people and infected 2,325 in Germany, and more than 100 in other European countries and the United States.

He reiterated that the source of the infection may never been found.

The cause of the contamination crisis is still unclear, but health officials have warned against eating cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and bean sprouts.

"I cannot yet give an all-clear, but after an analysis of the numbers there's reason for hope," Mr Bahr said. "The numbers are continuously falling - which nonetheless means that there can still be new cases and that one unfortunately has to expect new deaths too - but overall new infections are clearly going down."

Mr Dalli has demanded that German health authorities work more closely with international experts in fighting the deadly epidemic.

"We have to utilise the experience and expertise in all of Europe and even outside of Europe," he told daily newspaper Die Welt.

Outside health experts and German politicians criticised Germany yesterday for a bungled investigation into the world's deadliest E.coli outbreak, saying the infections should have been spotted much sooner.

Weeks after the outbreak began on May 2, German officials are still looking for its cause.

Spanish cucumbers were initially blamed, then ruled out after tests showed they had a different strain of E.coli.

On Sunday, investigators pointed the finger at German bean sprouts, only to backtrack a day later when initial tests were negative. The sprouts are still being tested.

Frightened and confused consumers continue to avoid vegetables and fruit in general - with grocery stores in Germany reporting losses of between 30% and 40% in sales of fresh produce, daily newspaper Bild reported.

In China, authorities ordered stepped-up health inspections for travellers arriving from Germany to prevent the super-toxic strain from reaching its shores.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Investigation and Quarantine said in a notice today that authorities should strengthen temperature and medical checks of travellers from Germany.

Those experiencing nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or fever should declare themselves to authorities or if already in the country, seek medical attention immediately, it said.