There’s never been an EHEC outbreak linked to vegetables. Germany normally has an average of 900 cases of EHEC each year, but the new outbreak is “very dangerous.” The challenge now is to identify the source of the infection and determine how vegetables were contaminated by the EHEC bacterium which is usually found in cattle. The European Disease Centre says that transmission of the EHEC infection usually occurs through contaminated food or water, and through contact with animals, but person-to-person transmission is also possible.
On Monday, the outbreak claimed its fourtheenth victim, a 75-year-old man living in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein who, like the other fatalities, suffered from bloody diarrhea and kidney failure after developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. Health officials say that while in the past HUS has mostly affected children, this time it is hitting adults, with women amongst the most vulnerable.
Amid growing concerns that the outbreak is spreading, some German supermarket chains have taken Spanish-imported cucumbers off the shelves and German consumers have started boycotting raw vegetables, even those from Germany. According to a survey published on Sunday, 58% of Germans say they are not eating fresh cucumbers, raw tomatoes or salad. German farmers say they are now facing huge losses and are being forced to destroy crops because of the consumer boycott. However, despite pressure from Germany’s powerful farming lobby, the government is still sticking to its guidelines. “As long as the experts in Germany and Spain have not been able to name the source of the agent without any doubt, the general warning for vegetables still holds,” Agriculture and Consumer Protection Ministers’ advice is simple: avoid salad, cucumbers and raw tomatoes, wash your hands carefully in the kitchen, and heat up all food properly. “The high mortality rate and the spiraling number of cases of patients infected with EHEC who develop HUS are extremely worrying,” since the EHEC bacterium cannot be treated with antibiotics.
Other EHEC cases have been reported across Europe — in Britain, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Sweden — but all of those cases involve either
German nationals or patients who have recently traveled to Germany. European health officials say no case of a locally acquired infection has so far been detected outside Germany. Although Spain remains in the spotlight as being the suspected source of the outbreak — the Spanish authorities have taken water and soil samples from two cucumber farms in southern Spain — German officials have warned against jumping to conclusions. “We have found the EHEC pathogens in Spanish cucumbers, but that doesn’t mean they are responsible for the whole outbreak.
With no end to the outbreak in sight, German authorities are working round-the-clock to locate the source of the bacteria — and prevent it from claiming more lives.
Staph is the same bug that caused headlines several years ago, when hospitals and communities started reporting a particularly virulent strain, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, that sickened children and led to tens of thousands of deaths. The bacteria dies when heated, but until contaminated meat is cooked, it can pose a health hazard in kitchens.
Each day it gets worse, more people are dying and the information we are receiving from the Health authorities is not reassuring. If the EHEC bacterium can not be treated with antibiotics, then what can we do? How many people world-wide will die from this outbreak and in what timeframe will we find the cure/solution to another world anomaly.