FRANKFURT – THE death toll from a killer bacteria outbreak rose to 36 on Monday, German health officials said, one day after warning that more fatalities cannot be ruled out.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s national disease agency, said 3,228 people had fallen sick from the virulent EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E. coli) or the linked kidney ailment haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).
On Sunday, German officials said 34 people had died in the country, but upped that figure to 35 on Monday.
A woman who had travelled to Germany also previously died in Sweden.
‘For many days the number of new infections from EHEC or HUS communicated to the RKI has declined in the country,’ the agency said in a statement that confirmed the new toll.
German Health Minister Daniel Bahr told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that he was encouraged by the decline in new infections, but warned that more deaths were still possible. — AFP
An investigation into a deadly outbreak of E coli has been thrown into chaos after laboratory tests showed that bean sprouts grown near Hamburg, which had been identified as the likely source, are possibly not to blame.
German officials had said they were confident that sprouts from the organic Gärtenhof farm in Lower Saxony were behind the spread of a particularly virulent strain of the bacterium. There were “strong and clear indications” that the farm was involved, the federal health minister, Daniel Bahr, said.
However, Lower Saxony’s agriculture ministry said 23 of 40 samples from the farm had now tested negative for the E coli, with 17 more tests still being done.
“The search for the outbreak’s cause is very difficult as several weeks have passed since its suspected start,” the ministry said in a statement, while warning that the negative tests did not conclusively prove the sprouts had not been contaminated. The ministry said it may be some time before Europe’s shoppers know for sure what foodstuffs are safe: “A conclusion of the investigations and a clarification of the contamination’s origin is not expected in the short term.”
Mounting suspicions that the outbreak originated in Germany caused outrage in Spain, which has seen a slump in demand for its vegetables after Spanish-grown cucumbers were initially blamed.
The EU is to hold an emergency meeting to consider ways to compensate Spanish farmers for their losses.
German hospitals are struggling to cope with the surge in patients caused by the E coli outbreak, as the death toll from the virus rose to 22.
The health minister, Daniel Bahr, said hospitals in northern Germany were finding it difficult to provide enough beds and treatment for patients, with the total number of cases increasing to 2,200.
“We’re facing a tense situation with patient care,” Bahr said, “but we will manage it.”
Agriculture officials said that bean sprouts grown in one organic farm between Hamburg and Hanover were the likely cause of the illness.
Hospital authorities said blood supplies were running low and staff were exhausted and working round-the-clock, with the northern cities of Hamburg and Bremen the worst affected.
“They [the doctors] voluntarily come in on weekends and even sleep here,” Oliver Grieve, a spokesman for the Kiel University hospital in northern Germany told Spiegel Online.
Hamburg’s health minister, Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, told a news conference the city was considering bringing doctors out of retirement. “We want to discuss with doctors about whether those who recently retired can be reactivated,” she said.
Patients with less serious illnesses are now being moved to nearby hospitals and operations for non-threatening diseases are being postponed.