spaine. coli.jpgVeronika Oleksyn of the Associated Press reports from Germany that the E. coli O104 outbreak has taken its 11th victim. This time a 91-year-old woman (nine of ten deaths are women) from Germany. The number of people contaminated or suspected of having been poisoned has reached 1,200, according to other media reports. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s national disease institute, reported 329 HUS cases in Germany alone. Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands also have reported illness in people who recently visited Germany.

Spanish vegetables, specifically cucumbers, have been suspected as the cause of the outbreak. German officials said even though they know that Spanish cucumbers tainted with E. coli O104 have carried the bacteria, they still have not been able to determine the exact source. “We have found the so-called EHEC pathogens (E. coli O104) on cucumbers, but that does not mean that they are responsible for the whole outbreak,” Andreas Hensel, president of Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, said on ZDF television.

Spain, meanwhile, went on the defensive, saying there was no proof that the E. coli outbreak has been caused by Spanish vegetables. “You can’t attribute the origin of this sickness to Spain,” Lopez Garrido told reporters in Brussels. “There is no proof and that’s why we are going to demand accountability from those who have blamed Spain for this matter.”

Let the finger pointing begin as people struggle for their lives and bury the dead.

  • John Munsell

    Times are indeed changing. When I was a kid (50 years ago), my dad would bring me a pickup load of “cured” manure from the corrals at our packing plant, and I spread it onto lawns for elderly folks in our neighborhood, especially for widows who needed assistance. With a heavy metal rake, I broke the manure down into smaller pieces, and either rain or the garden hose dissolved it for absorption into the lawn. Worked great. Heck, I breathed the dust, got the manure onto my hands, into my clothes and boots, I tracked it home where it didn’t sicken any of the ten kids in my family. I wouldn’t do it today.
    Bacteria are mutating, keeping one step ahead of us. The necessity for vaccines for live animals becomes more pronounced, and must be pursued. We also need to develop other interventions for use at slaughter plants, if we want to stay ahead of the mutating bugs. FSIS should place low dose/low penetration “irradiation” (that’s a misnomer) of carcasses towards the top of its list. Such treatment does NOT use radioactive isotopes, but a mere electronic treatment which admittedly is not a kill step, but will lower the numbers of microbes. All our other existing interventions (other than full cooking) also lack a kill step, but are authorized because they act in tandem with each other to lower the numbers of pathogens.
    We shouldn’t wait until America will experience numerous widespread outbreaks of newly emerging bugs before we authorize new interventions, and the use of bacteriophages is another example. When pasteurization of milk was first discussed, you’d think the sky had fallen because of all the claimed deleterious impacts supposedly permeating pasteurized milk. Well, similar criticism will be targetted against additional interventions, which quite frankly, we direly need. How many more deaths and life-changing sicknesses do we need before we implement aggressive changes?
    John Munsell

  • Daniel B. Cohen

    There is one new antibiotic being tested in the current outbreak. I would like Bill Marler to comment on improvement, or lack of improvement, in the clinical treatment of HUS since Jack-in-the-Box.

    It seems to me that the USA actually now has a better coordinated, careful and targeted response to food borne outbreaks than the EU.

    However, the US’s system is not well set up to detect and prevent non-O157:H7 STEC or other lethally virulent E. coli strains, despite repeated urging. So it’s not clear how well we would have done with this pathogen and it is a warning.

    Days after identifying two Spanish organic greenhouse producers as the source, the actual situation is not clear.

    In defense of Spain, one can note the lack of cases in Spain itself, the length of the supply chain where contamination can occur, the centrality of repacking in Germany to contamination, and the allegation (reported in Spain) by one of the farms that their cucumbers were seen spilled in the central market in Hamburg and repacked. Also the following (from Xinhua):

    “Danish cucumbers are suspected of helping spread the E. coli bacteria believed to be causing a deadly outbreak of intestinal infection in Denmark and Germany, local media reported Sunday.

    The Danish cucumbers were mixed in Germany with cucumbers originating in the Netherlands, making it difficult to determine if Danish cucumbers are in fact contaminated.”

    Meanwhile all Spanish produce is being pulled and banned in several countries and lettuce and tomatoes from Germany are being pulled in Denmark.

    Dan Cohen
    Maccabee Seed Company
    Davis CA

  • So who can you sue when an outbreak is caused by government-sanctioned genetically modified and weaponized bacteria?

  • “We are disappointed by the way Germany handles the situation,” Aguilar said, citing in particular “very unfortunate” declarations of German public health authorities “which pointed at Spanish cucumber and Spain as the origin of this infection without having reliable data”.

  • Let’s encourage people and reporters to hold back judgment until after a lab confirms the true cause… Let’s not forget the recent fiasco here in the States when tomatoes took the blame that should have gone to Mexican jalapenos. Many farmers lost many millions of dollars due to the government’s false placing of blame, and the food supply was not made any safer in the process.