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2011 Outbreak of Rare E. Coli Strain was Costly for Europe

The World Health Organization (WHO) has totaled up some economic costs of the 2011 outbreak of the rare and deadly E. coli O104:H4 centered on Northern Europe. Farmers and industries lost $1.3 billion, and emergency aid provided to 22 European states cost another $236 million, according to WHO.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-growing-sprouts-image16692667The novel E. coli strain was the cause of the May through June 2011 outbreak that saw 3,950 people infected, with 53 deaths blamed on the deadly pathogen. All but two of the deaths occurred in Germany.

There were scattered cases reported in Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom, but these people typically were in Germany or France immediately before being sickened.

Public health officials in Germany initially thought the source of the contamination was cucumbers imported from Spanish greenhouses, but that theory proved incorrect. It was a mistake that Spanish growers said cost them $200 million a week. Russia banned imports of all EU fresh produce in June 2011.

By June 10, the head of the Robert Koch Institute confirmed that sprouts were the source of the outbreak, and the joint assessment by EU food safety agencies on June 24 narrowed it to fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 and 2010. The seeds were widely distributed throughout Europe.

New estimates on the cost of the 2011 outbreak are included in food safety data WHO has issued in conjunction with World Health Day, which is being celebrated on April 7.

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