From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published June 3, 2011 11:13 AM

Europe's New E. Coli Scare

A new E. Coli outbreak has struck Europe. It started with a few deaths in Germany from what were thought to be Spanish cucumbers. Then more people in Germany and around the continent got infected. Trade tensions mounted and vegetable producers from various other countries became affected by the new outbreak. Now there have been cases reported in the United States, and Russia has banned the importing of fresh vegetables from the European Union. Vegetable producers around the continent are suffering from a worried public not buying their goods.

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The issue is a new strain of the E.Coli bacteria, rare but highly infectious. It sticks to the intestines where it causes diarrhea and vomiting. It can even cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which attacks the kidneys, possibly causing coma, seizure, or stroke. Germany now has 470 cases of HUS which is ten times greater than the previous largest outbreak. The main difference between this strain and other less toxic strains is the special "glue" which it uses to stick to the body.

In total, Germany has 1,500 people affected with the new E. Coli and at least four people have died. The majority of infections have hit middle to old age women. Most of the cases found outside the country are from German's travelling abroad or foreigners who have recently been to Germany. For example, there are 30 cases in Sweden, 11 in Denmark, three in the UK, one in the Netherlands, and one in Austria. Three victims have even been identified in the United States, thousands of miles away.

The source of the outbreak was believed to be fresh cucumbers from Almeria and Malaga, Spain back on May 26. However, German scientists later confirmed that the Spanish cucumbers were not the source. Testing is continuing to identify where this vicious bug is coming from.

Farmers from Spain as well as other areas of Europe are demanding compensation for their lost business since this crisis began. According to Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, deputy prime minister of Spain, "We do not rule out taking action against authorities which have cast doubt on the quality of our produce, so action may be taken against the authorities, in this case Hamburg."

Russia promptly banned all vegetable imports from Europe amid cries of protest from European governments and the European Commission. They had already banned imports from Germany and Spain since the outbreak began when they thought it was from Spanish cucumbers in Germany. Now that the source is still unknown, Russia is not taking any chances. Shops across the country are preparing to dump their EU vegetables.

Poland, a major vegetable and fruit exporter, and the Netherlands, a major salad exporter, describe the ban as a major blow. "After the collapse of the German consumer market, sales to Russia are now also impossible," the Dutch junior minister for economic affairs, agriculture and innovation Henk Bleker said. According to Poland's government, Moscow’s move was "excessive compared to the danger."

Meanwhile, Germany is suffering from one of its worst bacterial outbreaks ever. Some German citizens are concerned the disease may spread by human contact as well as ingestion. For example, at a high-profile church event in Dresden with over 120,000 people, there were no raw vegetables served. However, others are more hopeful, believing this whole thing will blow over and be forgotten. Only time will tell.

For more information: http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2011/ecoliO104/index.html

Image credit: http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/foodborne-illness-outbreaks/german-e-coli-outbreak-joins-cruel-list/

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