Health authorities have said contaminated bean sprouts were the source of the outbreak of E. coli O104:H4 in Germany, and that became more evident this weekend.
But as the epidemiological and laboratory evidence mounted, so did the toll of victims, even as the rate of infection slowed. The latest numbers released Monday: 36 dead and 3,330 ill.
Meanwhile, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) reported Monday that epidemiological evidence “confirms suspicions” that sprout seeds could be at the center of the contamination, and advised against eating raw sprouts, even homegrown sprouts.
The BfR said a family in Lower Saxony became infected with enterohemmorhagic E. coli (EHEC) after eating home-sprouted seeds.
Investigators now believe they have “definitive proof” that sprouts from an organic farm in the Bienenbüttel, Germany were at least one source of the outbreak, The Local newspaper reported Sunday.
On Saturday, an analysis by BfR confirmed that bacteria on sprouts found in the garbage bin of two case patients in Rhein-Sieg-Kreis matched the outbreak strain, according to the Federal Consumer and Agriculture Ministry.
European Union Health Commissioner John Dalli said in a statement, “The source of contamination is now identified and the epidemiological findings are backed by laboratory results.”
Here are more highlights from the investigation and other reports:
— Friday’s announcement that bean and seed sprouts were the “most likely vehicle” of the outbreak was the conclusion of authorities from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety. “It is the sprouts,” RKI president Reinhard Burger said at their joint news conference.
— So far there is no evidence that bean and seed sprouts from the implicated farm in Lower Saxony were exported beyond Germany.
— Authorities are recommending that people in Germany not eat raw bean and seed sprouts of any origin. “Households, caterers, and restaurants should dispose of any bean and seed sprouts that they have, and food items that might have come in contact with them ….”
— Meanwhile, the recommendation to avoid cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce in northern Germany has been cancelled since Friday.
— As of June 10, 68 percent of the cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in Germany were in females and 88 percent in adults aged 20 years or older.
— As of June 10, 60 percent of the E. coli infections (without HUS) were in females and 87 percent in adults aged 20 years or older.
— On Saturday, RKI said there had been a reduction in the number of E. coli/HUS cases reported to them. The number of patients showing up at emergency rooms with bloody diarrhea has not decreased since June 6.
— Cases of illnesses linked to the outbreak in Germany have now been reported in Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
— At present, RKI says the possibility of human introduction of the E. coli pathogen into the sprouts at the farm can’t be ruled out. “However, water, preceding suppliers or seeds are also possible sources. These possibilities are currently under investigation through investigations of supply chains and laboratory analyses.”
— Because the seed used for the production of sprouts may also be the source of the pathogen, other sprout producing businesses could potentially be contributing to the spread of E. coli O104:H4 as well, RKI warned.
News reports from Germany:
— Karl Lauterbach, health spokesman for the opposition Social Democrats, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that about 100 patients have suffered such terrible kidney damage that they may require transplants or need dialysis for the rest of their lives.
— In Germany local hospitals report E. coli infections to state health officials, who then notifiy RKI, the national health authority, a process that can take at least a week. That slow reporting process may be one reason the epidemic became so widespread.
— RKI reported that fewer new cases of bloody diarrhea are being reported, but it is not yet clear whether this is because people have been avoiding tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce (items often served with sprouts), or because the contaminated sprouts have been depleted.