The death toll from a killer E. coli outbreak centred on Germany rose to 35 Sunday as health officials said it was the worst of its kind on record and the German government feared more people could die. Meantime laboratory tests are trying to confirm suspicions that organic bean sprouts could be the origin of the outbreak.
More fatalities cannot be ruled out, painful though it is to say, Health Minister Daniel Bahr told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, while adding that the number of new cases was in decline.
”The continuing fall in the number of new infections gives grounds for optimism. But that does not rule out more cases of EHEC (entero-haemorrhagic E. coli),” he said.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease agency, said Sunday that the death toll had risen to 35, but that the rate of new infections had continued to abate.
We do not expect a fresh rise in cases said RKI spokesman Guenther Dettweiler. The outbreak is receding.
All but one of the 35 deaths from EHEC poisoning have been in Germany, with the other being a Swede who had recently travelled to Germany.
Some 3,255 people have also fallen sick in 14 European countries plus the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization. All but five cases were in people from or who had visited Germany.
Many are seriously ill with bloody diarrhoea and potentially life-threatening conditions such as haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious kidney ailment. The WHO said Saturday that 812 people had HUS, 773 of them in Germany.
This wave of EHEC and haemolytic uremic syndrome cases in Germany is the most significant recorded in the world to date, said Nele Boehme, spokeswoman for the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).
In Germany, 100 patients have such bad kidney damage they need an organ transplant or will require dialysis treatment for the rest of their lives, said Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats party.
Meantime laboratory tests continue to try and confirm last week’s conclusions that contaminated sprouts from an organic farm in the north of Germany were the most likely cause of the outbreak.
Officials acknowledged that lab tests to confirm the findings had produced only negative results and questions remain about how the sprouts had been contaminated in the first place.
To reach their conclusion, health officials said they relied on an epidemiological study of the pattern of infection among patients, tracking the outbreak along the food chain, from hospital beds to restaurants and back to the farm, southeast of Hamburg, at Bienenbüttel.
Hours after the announcement in Berlin, officials in a different region, North Rhine-Westphalia, said they had, for the first time, identified the pathogens thought to be causing the outbreak in an open package of bean sprouts from the same farm.
Johannes Remmel, the state consumer protection minister, said the discovery — in a garbage can at the home of two infected patients in Cologne — meant that it was “becoming increasingly more likely that bean sprouts” from the farm had caused the outbreak. Federal officials cautioned that the findings still needed to be confirmed.