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E. Coli Plagues Europe

  • June 3rd, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

ecoli-u-calif.jpegThe E. coli outbreak focused around Northern Germany has caused 17 deaths to date in Germany and one in  Sweden, with 2000 people ill in several countries, many seriously.

ecoli-textbook.jpegThe illness of the last week is virulent; its cause looks to be a possible hybrid or adaptation of a bacterium, obtaining a toxin from another bacterium; one more in the new generation of elusive germs, causing medical scientists to scramble to trace its origins.

People in the meantime are being counselled not to eat raw vegetables or certain  fruit, e.g. no lettuce and tomatoes, and to avoid contact with objects or surfaces around sufferers that have not been cleaned.

Early patterns in this outbreak  – marked often by severe, bloody diarrohea, sometimes kidney damage, with possible links to coma and epilepsy – have been unusual for E. coli, hitting adults more than children, and with women making up 70% of cases.

Scientists being quoted by Reuters have expressed fears that the new strain is “the most toxic yet to hit a human population”.

The report says that most Escherichia coli or E. coli bacteria are harmless, but this one, known as 0104:H4, is part of a category called Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, or STEC.

edcoli-thinkquest.jpegAn Encyclopaedia Britannica article describes E. coli, as: “A species of bacteria that normally inhabits the stomach and intestines. When E. coli is consumed in contaminated water, milk, or food, or is transmitted through the bite of a fly of other insect, it can cause gastrointestinal illness. Mutations can lead to strains that cause diarrohea by giving off toxins, invading the stomach lining, or sticking to the intestinal wall. Therapy for gastrointestinal illness consists largely of fluid replacement, though specific drugs are effective in some cases. The illness is usually self-limiting …”

The current outbreak began in Germany but cases have now occurred in ten European countries, most reports coming from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom – and also the United States.

Russia has banned vegetables imports from the European Union, closing off a major market, (and not for the first time; food bans in the past have coincided with bouts of truculence over matters such as former Warsaw Pact allies casting their lot with the NATO alliance, or the EU; see EUAustralia Online, “Commentary: Yeltsin-Putin …”, 27.4.07).

The Spanish government and industry have been demanding compensation from Germany or the European Union, for loss of farm income, after German authorities initially said the bacterium had come from cucumbers grown in Spain. (Some had a different, weaker strain of E. coli).

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Academic Edition, Chicago, “E.coli”., (3.6.11).

Euronews, Lyon, “Deadly E. coli sews confusion”, 1.6.11, (video)., (3.6.11).

European  Commission, Brussels, John Dalli Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Statement by Commissioner Dalli on the E. coli outbreak, (media conference), Brussels, 1.6.11. SPEECH/11/404, 1.6.11.

Le Monde, Paris, “Bactérie tueuse : l’Espagne demande réparation”, (Killer bacterium; Spain wants compensation), 1.6.11., (3.6.11).

Helen Pidd (Berlin), and agencies, “E coli outbreak in Germany adds 365 more confirmed cases”, The Guardian, Manchester, 1.6.11., (3.6.11).

Julie Steenhuysen (Chicago), “Deadly E. coli mixes common toxin with rare ‘glue’”, Reuters, London, 2.6.11., (3.6.11).

World Health Organisation, Geneva, Disease Outbreak News: EHEC outbreak; increases in cases in Germany, 2.6.11., (3.6.11).


E. coli under microscope –,,