31-03-2011-11-03-0_1976664b.jpgAccording to a variety of German press reports, German health officials have confirmed over 400 cases of E. coli – enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) (as of yet the serotype is unnamed). “Since the source of the infections hasn’t yet been discovered, that means we also can’t put a stop to it – instead, we have to get warnings out to people,” said Dr. Susanne Huggett, Medical Director at the MEDILYS laboratory in Hamburg, in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

Hamburg’s Institute for Hygiene and Environment said unwashed vegetables could be the prime suspect based on information gathered from afflicted individuals, while sources like raw milk, cream cheese and beef that more often contain the bacteria seem unlikely to have caused the current epidemic. “If fields are fertilized with liquid manure, then the EHEC bacteria can make its way on to salad or vegetables sold in supermarkets,” noted Werner Solbach, microbiologist at the University of Lübeck, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “These days, we have a lot of pre-packaged and prepared salads for sale that may contain the bacteria.”

Although generally children and the elderly are most at risk of infection, investigators have also noted an unusually high number of adult women among the sufferers this year, leading to questions about whether the source is in a product marketed more heavily to women. So far, one death has been confirmed from this month’s outbreak. An 83-year-old woman died due to complications from the bacteria on May 21, said Hannover’s Department of Health on Tuesday. A number of other patients infected with EHEC are currently in critical condition with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

Sounds terrible and terribly familiar. Remember the 2006 Dole pre-packaged spinach outbreak? In that E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, among the 205 ill persons, 51% were hospitalized and 16% developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). 71% were female and 11% were children under 5 years old. The proportion of persons who developed HUS was 29% in children (<18 years old), 8% in persons 18 to 59 years old, and 14% in persons 60 years old or older. There were 5 confirmed deaths.