The outbreak of E. coli affecting more than a dozen victims in Bordeaux, France is now almost conclusively linked to the ongoing epidemic of E. coli O104:H4 in Germany that has claimed the lives of 48 Europeans so far.

Doctors say they are 99 percent sure that the French outbreak, which appears to have plateaued at 13 victims, is related to the massive outbreak attributed to German-grown sprouts, French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand announced Monday.

This latest outbreak is thought to have come from sprouts served at a community event in Bègles as a garnish for a variety of dishes. Eight of the victims reported attending the event.

Experts are working to determine the source of contamination.  The sprouts in question were grown in France, but the seeds were purchased from a UK company, Thompson & Morgan, which says the seeds came from an Italian supplier.

So far it is unclear whether the bacteria may have originated on the seeds themselves, or could have contaminated the sprouts during the growing process from irrigation water or human contact.

Investigators are trying to determine whether sprouts from the two outbreaks may have come from common seed suppliers, according to the World Health Organization.

France has put a ban on the sale of fenugreek, arugula and mustard seeds from the British company.  Ireland and England have warned consumers not to eat raw sprouts, although no cases have been reported in the United Kingdom.

In Germany, the number of outbreak victims has risen to 4,800 but the rate of new cases is declining significantly, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

Nevertheless, the still-rising count of infections shows that the bacteria’s danger has not yet passed.

An elementary  school in the Western province of Altenbeken shut down Tuesday after several students came down with E. coli O104:H4 infections. The school plans to remain closed for a week – the approximate incubation period for the disease, to ensure the disease does not spread any further.

It is unclear at this time whether or not the students’ infections were secondary, i.e. contracted from other people, or whether they were sickened by food they ate.

Reparations for Victims

Whether or not the outbreak’s origin is eventually determined, experts say, patients will most likely be able to seek reparations from companies that sold contaminated product, Business Insurance reported yesterday.

“It may be that the source is not established with a great deal of certainty, but it could be credible enough to establish liability,” said Mike Noonan, head of strategic claims management at QBE Operations, a London-based insurance group.

Farmers who experienced a drop in sales after cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes were originally named as suspects in the outbreak may not receive compensation for their losses, according to Business Insurance.

Spanish farmers lost over 200 million dollars per week when cucumbers from southern Spain were announced to be the source of the O104 bacteria, a fact that later proved false but continued to cause consumers to shy away from the country’s produce.

So far, the European Commission has agreed to pay European growers $300 million in compensation for their profit losses, but they are unlikely to be able to reclaim all damages, especially if the outbreak source is not proven definitively.