Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The current outbreak of - presumably - food borne illness, is continuing in Europe. It has been declared to be the worst such outbreak in modern times. This is not only because of the numbers of people who are becoming ill, and the multi-country scope, but because of the severity of the illness. It is caused by a particularly deadly and rare strain of E.coli bacteria. While some E.coli live normally in our digestive system and serve a useful function in processing food, others are pathogenic and can cause very serious illness, including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This is one of the latter group. In fact, it may be the worst E.coli bacterium known because of the very high percentage of victims who develop HUS complications.

Since the outbreak is still ongoing, statistics are changing on a daily basis. Remember too that some people may be asymptomatic, and others have such mild cases that they don't see a doctor, and therefore do not get added to the list. As mentioned in earlier posts (see May 31), the real numbers in any foodborne illness are usually many times higher than the reported ones. By the time I post this, the below numbers will have increased again. But they give you some idea of where we are.

In Germany: 1,534 people in the country have been confirmed as infected. The Robert Koch Institute in Germany has reported that out of these fully 470 are suffering from HUS (about 30%, which is in the range of my earlier guesstimate - see post of May 31 - of a quarter to a third). Seventeen deaths have been reported so far.

In other countries: The World Health Organization said cases have been reported in nine European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. But other reports also note two cases in the United States, and one in the Czech Republic (an American travelling from Germany, who is hospitalized in Prague). All but a few illness in other countries are among people who have recently travelled to Northern Germany, or among German residents who are have become ill while travelling abroad (There is a time-delay between getting infected and developing symptoms). The few instances that do not fit this patterns could be secondary infections caught from friends or relatives who are ill.

As of time of writing, the source of the outbreak is still unknown. Although cucumbers from Spain have now been dismissed as the cause, people in many countries are still being advised not to eat them. They are being fed to goats instead!
It seems that the focus of the investigation is still on vegetables which are eaten raw. But could it be something else?

To your good health!


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