Spain_cucumber_scare_110531.jpgI have received a few emails complaining that Spanish cucumbers have been wrongfully maligned by Germany.  There has even been a call by the cucumber eating Spanish agricultural minister for compensation to Spain while E. coli victims still struggle in hospitals in a dozen countries, and where at least 19 families are attending funerals – go figure. 

Here is an email I received that I think does a great of explaining what German health officials were facing when they made the decision to implicate cucumbers – and also warn about tomatoes and lettuce:

It was a legitimate call by the Hamburg Health authorities to blow the whistle on Spanish cucumbers.

Reason 1: All the EHEC-stricken victims have quoted eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and salads which definitely makes these 3 vegetables prime suspect.

Reason 2: The German health authorities tested 4 cucumbers out of 1500 samples from vegetables sold in Hamburg and these 4 cucumbers ARE EHEC-infected. But they didn’t know the exact variant yet because it takes at least 4 days to a week to conclusively determine the correct strain is the one (HUS-41) killing the 17 EHEC deaths. 3 of these cucumbers come from Spain and 1 from Netherlands. So the Hamburg health authorities blew the whistle on Spanish cucumbers (knowing that they irrigated their export crops with shit in water fertilizer. It was either wait 1 week, have more people falling sick and dying or pre-alerting them. (That 1 cucumber from Netherlands they knew later after they had blown the whistle.)

NOTE : the 4 cucumbers ARE EHEC-infected. If they were not even EHEC-infected, I would agree with you at this point.

Then, the German doctors found out that the particular variant causing the HUS-41 EHEC fatalities is the O104 EHEC variant/strain.

Then they had to grow and culture some of it and match with the dead victims and found no, the 4 cucumbers which although are EHEC-infected, do not constitute the deadly O104 EHEC strain.

So source of infection is once more open, any body’s guess which are the actual culprits but the warning of no raw tomatoes, cucumbers and salads still exist. Would you eat these vegetables now, knowing the EHEC-infected victims had eaten these and had fallen sick in due course?

If you do, you have more guts than me. I won’t.

Me either.  And, further, German reports continue to support fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce – a salad – as the most likely vector:

In its latest report, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said the source of the outbreak has not been identified, but fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce from the northern part of the country “must be considered to have the highest relative risk for infection compared to other foods investigated,” and these raw vegetables should be avoided “until the definitive source of the outbreak has been identified.”

Describing the preliminary results of two more epidemiological studies, RKI said 46 patients with HUS or EHEC infection from Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck were questioned in detail from May 29 to June 2 about the foods they had eaten.

These cases were compared with 2,100 healthy individuals — the control group — matched for age, gender and region of residence. These were the results:

— Lettuce had been eaten by 84 percent of those ill, but only by 47 percent of the controls.

— Cucumbers had been eaten by 75 percent of those ill, but only 50 percent of the controls.

— Tomatoes had been eaten by 80 percent of those ill, but only 63 percent of the controls.

A total of 95 percent of those ill had eaten at least one of these vegetables.

In a second, separate study, investigators found that people who had eaten from the salad bar at a company canteen in Frankfurt were 7 times more likely to have developed bloody diarrhea than those who did not eat from the salad bar. There was no association with illness for other foods investigated, such as dessert, fruit and asparagus.

“These two unrelated and methodologically distinct studies support the results of the previously performed case control study,” RKI concluded, referring to an earlier epidemiological investigation conducted in Hamburg and published May 26.

Hopefully, the actual vector and traceback to the source, will happen.  Identifying the actual vector and tracing it back to the point of contamiantion, will be a teachable moment.