An E.Coli outbreak that has killed at least ten people so far in Germany has been possibly traced to cucumbers imported from Spain, according to the BBC. Cases have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, all places where Germans travel and the cucumbers may also have been exported to the Czech Republic and also to Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg.
For consumers in the US and Canada, the outbreak is far away. But it’s a reminder to be careful about what you eat and about sanitation when traveling in the summer.
Reuters reports that, according to the Stockholm-based European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 214 cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of a type of E. coli, have been reported. Of those 214, the online journal Eurosurveillance says that 186 are 18 years or older and 146 are female. The outbreak is, says the ECDC, “one of the largest described of HUS worldwide and the largest ever reported in Germany.” HUS is usually observed in children under 5 years of age.
While many varieties of E. Coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea, HUS affects the blood, kidneys and, in severe cases, the central nervous system and requires hospitalization.
The Hamburg Institute for Hygiene and the Environment (HU) analyzed three of the four contaminated cucumbers and has said they can be traced to Spain; the country of origin of the fourth cucumber is not yet known. Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that early studies have also implicated raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. Health officials in Germany have advised people to stop eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuces and some of these foods have been taken off of shelves in groceries.
Spain has announced restrictions on two suspected cucumber exporters from Andalucia. No cases of HUC have yet been reported in Spain and officials said that Spanish consumers should not change their eating habits.
The spread of infection may not be over, though. Helge Karch, a scientist from Munster University, warns that the spread of secondary infection is not over:
“It is possible that there will be secondary infections during this outbreak as well. These secondary infections work from man to man and they can be avoided. That’s why we have to do everything possible for better personal hygiene.”
This is the second big food scare for Germany this year. Highly toxic dioxin was found in egg, poultry and pork products in January.
A few years ago, a friend’s niece contracted E. Coli from contaminated hamburger meat from a family barbecue. She is all right now, but had to be hospitalized for a long time and go through dialysis. So if you’re planning to fire up the grill for Memorial Day, make sure your burgers are fully cooked, especially if you’re feeding children and the elderly.
Photo by karenandbrademerson.