Two victims of a potentially fatal strain of E. coli have been placed on artificial respiration machines, a Frankfurt hospital said Monday, while hospitals across Germany were reporting a surge in infections.
German media report that EHEC, or Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli, is a virulent strain of gut bacterium which can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea, and can lead to anaemia and kidney damage.
The strain of E. coli is not specified in media reports, but the kidney failure bit makes it sound like a Shiga-toxin producing E. coli.
In Frankfurt, 10 people had been hospitalized, of whom four were in intensive care, while a further 50 people were ill with mild symptoms of EHEC.
A total of 40 people were being treated in Hamburg, most of whom were female, the city’s health authorities said.
Around 800 to 1,200 cases of EHEC are recorded in Germany each year, predominantly affecting children. The current outbreak is unusual for causing severe symptoms in adults, primarily women.
The bacterium is commonly transmitted through contaminated raw or undercooked ground meat products or milk, but disease experts said there was evidence that uncooked vegetables might have helped to spread the latest outbreak.
Gerard Krause of the Robert Koch health authority responsible for epidemiology, said,
“Women prepare food more often, and it is there they could have come into contact with it, possibly while cleaning vegetables or other foodstuffs.”
In a German version of blame-the-consumer, the Robert Koch Institute has recommended people improve kitchen hygiene, making sure in particular that cutting boards and knives are clean.
It’s doubtful that all 80 sick people practiced lousy kitchen cleanliness at the same time across Germany.