Sprouts of E-coli

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The blame game played by the Germans cost the Spanish cucumber farmers nearly 200 million Euros worth of sales. Further all European fruits and vegetables were attacked as the source of the deadly E-coli was not discovered. Well it seems that the culprit was not cucumbers, but a product from their own backyard. German grown Bean Sprouts!

Bean sprouts locally grown in Northern Germany have been identified as the likely cause. It is a common ingredient in salads and stir frys but have previously been blamed for major health scares. They were held responsible for a serious outbreak of Salmonella in Britain last year and 17 e.coli-related deaths in Japan in 1996.

Both Canadian and American health officials have frequently given warnings about the dangers of bean sprouts, which have been responsible for well over 40 food borne illnesses around the world caused by either E.coli or Salmonella bacteria in the last 35 years or so.

Gert Hahne, a spokesman for the agriculture ministry in Lower Saxony, said health officials had identified the sprouts as the possible source of the deadly bug. The epidemiologic data all come together now, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. And it really is coming to the sprouts. It makes sense.

Pinpointing where and how the germ entered the food chain will enable authorities to control the outbreak, which the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said is reported to have caused 2,263 cases of illness in European Union countries, with 21 deaths in Germany and one in Sweden.

The source of the outbreak is under investigation, but contaminated food seems the most likely vehicle of infection, the Stockholm-based ECDC said in a statement. The source of the contamination could have been poor hygiene at either a farm, in transit or in a shop or restaurant, scientists say.

The death toll from Germanys E. coli outbreak rose to 22, and officials in Lower Saxony state said sprouts grown by a company near Uelzen were a significant source of the bacteria.
At least one farm worker has been infected with E. coli., Gert Lindemann, the state agriculture minister, told reporters in Hanover yesterday. The firm, which he didnt name, supplied places where the bacterium was found, Lindemann said. The sprouts cant be solely to blame for the outbreak, he said.

Definitive Tests

Officials in Lower Saxony warned against eating sprouts and said results of more definitive tests may be released today.

Its unclear whether the bacteria came from the water the sprout seeds were grown in or the seedlings themselves, which came both from within Germany and from outside the country, Lindemann said. About 18 different sprouts are grown by the company, including bean, broccoli and garlic, he said. The firm has been shut down and results from tests should be available tomorrow, he said. People shouldnt eat the sprouts, he said.

Sprouts from the firm were either delivered directly by the firm or through a distributor to the states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony and Hesse, Lindemann said.

Pressure on Healthcare

German hospitals have been struggling to cope with the flood of E coli victims, said Daniel Bahr, the health minister. Hospitals in the northern city of Hamburg, where the outbreak began three weeks ago, have been discharging patients with less serious illnesses to handle the surge of people stricken by a rare, highly toxic strain of the bacteria.

“We’re facing a tense situation with patient care,” Bahr told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. He said hospitals outside Hamburg could be used to make up for “insufficient capacity” in Germany’s second-largest city.

One E.coli survivor, 41-year-old Nicoletta Pabst, told The Associated Press that sanitary conditions at the Hamburg-Eppendorf hospital were horrendous when she arrived with cramps and bloody diarrhoea. She said at least 20 others had a similar condition in the emergency room.

“All of us had diarrhoea and there was only one bathroom each for men and women it was a complete mess,” she said. “If I hadn’t been sick with E. coli by then, I probably would have picked it up over there.”

However Bahr was singing a different tune. “I witnessed how the employees in the institutions have been working intensively and informing patients early and transparently” about their conditions, he Hsaid. e wanted to see the situation firsthand and talk to physicians and nurses who have been working overtime and double-shifts for weeks in a row.

The state health minister Cornelia Pruefer-Storcks said local officials were scrambling to relieve a looming shortage of doctors.”We want to discuss with doctors whether those who recently retired can be reactivated,” she said, adding that medical staff in Hamburg were battling exhaustion.

Hybrid

More than a quarter of the people reported to have been sickened by the German variant of E.coli known as O104 (enterohemorrhagic ) O104, is a hybrid of strains that can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome and bloody diarrhea as well as resistance to about a dozen antibiotics.

Some patients require the use of dialysis to cleanse the blood. Patients also may need transfusions after the bacteria dissolves their red blood cells, said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of food-borne illness at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Luebeck Restaurant

A restaurant in Luebeck, Germany, being investigated after 17 people became ill with the same strain of E. coli, received supplies from Hamburg, the owner told ZDF television in an interview yesterday. Luebeck is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Hamburg, which European Union Health Commissioner John Dalli said last week was the epicenter of the outbreak.

Authorities investigated the restaurant as a possible source of cases in the outbreak, Luebecker Nachrichten reported last week.
Members of the German Tax Administration Union, a Danish tour group and a family and became ill with enterohemorrhagic E. coli, after eating steak and salad at the Kartoffelkellar, owner Joachim Berger told ZDF. A 47-year-old female member of the tax union has died and two other members have life-threatening conditions, ZDF said, citing the union.

Import Bans

Qatar imposed a temporary ban on the importation of tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers from Germany and Spain, the Qatar News Agency reported, citing a decision from the Supreme Council of Health. Ships carrying fruit and vegetables from Europe must have documents proving they are free of E. coli, the news agency said. UAE placed a ban on European Cucumbers.

Biogas

Meanwhile, several German scientists suggested the outbreak could be linked to bacteria found in biogas plants. Biogas, or methane, is produced by the anaerobic digestion or fermentation of biodegradable material such as manure, sewage and green waste. “There are all sorts of bacteria which didn’t exist before which are now produced in biogas fermentation tanks,” Bernt Schottdorf, a medical analyst, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “They crossbreed and mix with one another – what goes on precisely hasn’t really been studied,” he said, adding that 80 per cent of the production waste finds its way back onto fields as fertilizer.

Ernst Guenther Hellwig, head of the veterinary and agriculture academy in Horstmar-Leer, said because it had rained very little in the spring it was possible such fertilisers had not been washed off growing plants. “Dangerous bacteria could be brought onto the fields this way and could contaminate vegetables,” he said.

The blame game continues. Until Germany cleans up its backyard, the world would be vary of all vegetation, regardless of the source.

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