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WHO confirms strain of bacteria in European outbreak

The WHO says enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O104:H4 is rare and never before seen in an EHEC outbreak


Copenhagen, Denmark – The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the bacteria causing a deadly outbreak in parts of Europe is a rare strain.

On June 2, the WHO said the strain of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O104:H4 is a rare one, which has been seen in humans before but never in an EHEC outbreak.

While many scientists from several countries are working together to gather more information, the source of the outbreak is still unknown.

Outbreak

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Germany first reported a significant increase in the number of patients with HUS and EHEC on May 22.

While HUS, caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, is usually observed in children under 5 years of age, in this outbreak, says the ECDC, the great majority of cases are adults, with more than two thirds being women.

The ECDC says contaminated food seems the most likely vehicle of infection. And there is currently no indication that raw milk or meat is associated with the outbreak.

Most cases are from or have a history of travel to the North of Germany. Within the EU, Sweden, the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain have reported cases of HUS, related to the ongoing outbreak.

European reaction

FoodNavigator.com reports that confusion is mounting in Europe as to the source of the health scare. Russia has banned imports of all European raw vegetables and Spain is threatening legal action against German authorities for “wrongly naming its produce as causing the crisis.”

Latest stats

The WHO says that Germany had reported 520 cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and 1,213 cases of EHEC. In total 17 people have died.

Globally, 552 cases of HUS (12 fatal) and 1,271 cases of EHEC without HUS (six fatal) have been officially reported as of June 2, making the total number of cases 1,823, of which 18 have been fatal. Thus, between 31 May and 2 June, there have been 56 new cases of HUS (2 fatal) and 156 new cases of EHEC (2 fatal) reported globally.