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Rare Strain of E. coli Confirmed in German Outbreak

HAMBURG, Germany—The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed the strain of  enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) 0104:H4 isolated from cases in the EHEC infection outbreak in Germany is a rare one, seen in humans before, but never in an EHEC outbreak. To date, the outbreak has sickened more than 1,600 and killed 19 in 11 European countries in the past few weeks.

The Robert Koch Institute has confirmed 470 cases and nine deaths from Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a form of acute kidney failure, from the “super toxic" strain of the bacteria.

The molecular and genetic features of the pathogen are important in helping authorities to identify cases in other countries that could be associated with the outbreak in Germany and to identify the source of the outbreak. While epidemiological and laboratory investigations continue, the source of the outbreak still remains unknown.

The source of the deadly E. coli strain initially was thought to be cucumbers imported from Spain; however, tests on cucumbers conducted by the Hamburg Health Department didn’t find the strain of E. coli responsible for the outbreak although the cucumbers did test positive for E. coli.

Spain is said to be weighing legal action against Germany for economic losses from the accusation. Political fallout also deepened in the past few days as Russia imposed a ban on all fresh produce originating from the European Union. According to a report from the BBC, the EU said the Russian ban was disproportionate and would be lodging a protest, European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said, who estimated the value of EU exports of fresh vegetables to Russia at about €600 million.

Currently, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment advises against eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces to prevent further cases. The recommendation applies especially to foods acquired in Northern Germany and will be upheld while the outbreak investigations continue.

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