The mysterious German E coli outbreak that has killed 16 people shows no sight of abating, with 365 new cases confirmed on Wednesday.
The source of the outbreak remains unknown, though the majority of those affected either live in Germany – particularly in or around the northern city of Hamburg – or have travelled there recently.
The German disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported 365 new E coli cases today, a quarter of them involving the hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication resulting from E coli infection that affects the blood and kidneys.
European Union officials said three cases had also been reported in the US, adding that most infections reported outside Germany involved German nationals or people who had recently travelled to the country. On Tuesday, a Swedish woman became the first person to die outside Germany after returning from a trip there.
On Wednesday, the northern state of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania issued a plea for blood donations in case the number of victims continues to rise.
German authorities initially identified cucumbers imported from Spain as the likely source of the outbreak but they admitted on Tuesday that further tests on the cucumbers showedthat, while contaminated, they did not carry the bacterium strain responsible for the deaths. They have still not identified the cause, but raw lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers remain prime suspects, with authorities recommending that consumers in northern Germany avoid all three.
Spain said it was considering legal action after the false alarm.
“We do not rule out taking action against authorities which have cast doubt on the quality of our produce, so action may be taken against the authorities, in this case, of Hamburg,” the deputy prime minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, told Cadena Ser radio.
Spanish farmers say lost sales resulting from the crisis are costing them €200m (£176m) a week, and could cost 70,000 jobs in a country that already has the EU’s highest unemployment rate.
Several European countrieshave reportedly blocked entry of Spanish cucumbers, but EU health commissioner John Dalli said the commission had received no official confirmation of any import bans.
Russia’s consumer protection watchdog repeated a threat to outlaw all vegetable imports from the EU, having already banned raw vegetable imports from Germany and Spain.
“Despite repeated requests, Russia’s consumer protection watchdog has not received information from the European Union about the source of the infection, about dangerous produce or about measures being taken to localise and combat the outbreak,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
French government spokesman François Baroin said the country had taken the precaution of setting up a crisis unit to deal with a possible outbreak in the country, with health officials across France on alert for signs of new cases.