E. coli cucumber scare: Cases 'likely to increase'

  • Published

A deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe is expected to worsen in coming days, a senior German scientist has said.

Fourteen people have died in Germany and one woman has now died in Sweden after a trip to Germany.

"We hope the number of cases will go down but we fear it will worsen," said Oliver Grieve, of the University Medical Centre Schleswig-Holstein, where many victims are being treated.

It is thought cucumbers from Spain caused the outbreak.

But Spanish officials have refused to accept the blame, saying it is still unclear exactly when and where the vegetables were contaminated.

The president of Spain's fruit and vegetable export federation has urged the government to deal with the outbreak, saying it was costing Spanish exporters $200m (£120m) a week.

Asked which countries had stopped buying Spanish produce, Jorge Brotons reportedly told a news conference: "Almost all Europe. There is a domino effect on all vegetables and fruits."

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the outbreak as "very large and very severe" and has urged countries to work together to find the source of contamination.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease institute, has confirmed 329 cases in the country - though some reports have mentioned as many as 1,200 cases.

In Sweden, authorities earlier said there were 36 suspected E. coli infections, all linked to travel in northern Germany.

On Tuesday, Swedish authorities said a woman in her 50s had died in hospital, after being admitted on Sunday following a trip to Germany.

Cases have also been reported in Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.

This is believed to be an outbreak of the 0104 strain of E. coli.

In many instances, the gastrointestinal infection has led to Haemolytic-uraemic Syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal.

Suspicion has fallen on organic cucumbers from Spain imported by Germany but then re-exported to other European countries, or exported directly by Spain.

Cucumbers from the cities of Almeria and Malaga have been identified as possible sources of contamination, according to an EU spokeswoman.

Wider ban threatened

Several countries have taken steps to curtail the outbreak, such as banning cucumber imports and removing the vegetables from sale.

On Monday, Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar denied Spanish vegetables were to blame, and said Spain would look into claiming damages for losses incurred.

"Our understanding is that the problem does not come from the [country of] origin," Ms Aguilar was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"The image of Spain is being damaged, Spanish producers are being damaged and the Spanish government is not prepared to accept this situation," she said.

She also urged Germany to wrap up its investigation into the cause of the outbreak. The results of the probe are not expected before Tuesday or Wednesday, officials said.

German authorities have warned people to avoid eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

They have also warned the outbreak may get worse as its source may still be active.

The sickness is not directly contagious but it can be transferred between people if an infected person prepares food for others.

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