German E. coli O104 outbreak caused by strain never seen before: WHO: 18 dead, 470 HUS, 1,534 sick

The World Health Organization said today the E. coli O104 responsible for a deadly outbreak that has left 18 dead and sickened hundreds in Europe is a new strain that has never been seen before.

Preliminary genetic sequencing suggests the strain is a mutant form of two different E. coli bacteria, with aggressive genes that could explain why the Europe-wide outbreak appears to be so massive and dangerous, the agency said.

Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the WHO, told The Associated Press that "this is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before."

She added that the new strain has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the hundreds of E. coli strains that people naturally carry in their intestines.

David Tribe of Australia writes that rapid work in China has applied third generation DNA decoding technologies to decode the German outbreak disease bacterium genome. It has revealed the germ to be a hybrid (which can be described alternatively as a chimera, a true natural GMO).

The novel germ has some virulence abilities of a class of pathogenic E. coli bacteria called entero-aggregative E. coli (#EAEC). It has similarities to a bacterial strain called EAEC 55989 , which was isolated in the Central African Republic and is known to cause serious diarrhea. EAEC typically carry extra mini-chromosomes called plasmids. The German outbreak strain has the typical plasmid genes of EAEC bacteria as well as shigatoxin genes seen in EHEC germs.

The work decoding the genome done in Shenzhen, China, is a triumph of rapid genetic investigation using high-technology methods. The German outbreak strain is a new strain which has acquired specific gene sequences that have a role in pathogenicity, causing hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS).

The outbreak is already considered the third-largest involving E. coli in recent world history (as opposed to alien history? – dp), and it may be the deadliest. Twelve people died in a 1996 Japanese outbreak that reportedly sickened more than 9,000, and seven died in a 2000 Canadian outbreak.

Journalists, how hard is it to use Google? The deadliest outbreak would be Scotland in 1996 in which at least 21 died from E. coli O157 in roast beef sandwiches served at assisted living homes. The previous high was 17 at a nursing home in London, Ontario in 1985.