It’s a race against time: the spread of dangerous intestinal germ EHEC continues, and the experts are stumped.
Consumer Protection Minister Aigner has for the first time spoke out on this threat.
Federal Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner spoke on the spread of the dangerous intestinal germ Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli bacteria (EHEC). “We currently cannot yet say where the source is and can therefore exclude any new cases,” Aigner said on Wednesday in ARD Television on the occasion of the German Consumer Day. “This particularly aggressive bacteria has been active since mid-May in Germany and is dangerous.”
How the bacteria was transmitted is still unclear but experts suspect that unwashed vegetables could be the cause. Aigner notes “The safety of products in this country, in general, are very high. In Germany we really have the safest food, but food scandals still cannot be ruled out completely. There are always problems.” Aigner repeated the general rules of hygiene advice given to prevent infection – wash raw vegetables, properly cook them and clean kitchen cutting boards too.
Robert Koch-Institute expects a decline in the EHEC-wave
Reinhard Burger, Robert Koch Institute Commissioner, expects a slowdown in EHEC infections. “In the autumn these infections will decrease” Burger said on Wednesday outside of the Bundestag’s Health Committee meeting in Berlin.
Despite pressing studies by a large RKI team, no single food has been identified as the source. “No single product has yet to be identified. While manure is the likely cause, theoretically speaking, we have not found any evidence.” added Burger.
There are some 130 cases so far compared to an average of 60 to 70 cases in the whole year. Since women were the most affected, this suggests that they were preparing food when they became infected.
Burger said, “You may find no clear source as where the cause lays because with perishable foods they have already been consumed. The most important thing is the kitchen hygiene of each individual. So far, there is at least one death.”
The EHEC pathogen in Germany has probably already killed two women. A 83-year-old woman died and another also suffered before her death from bloody diarrhea. Whether it was the dangerous pathogen in itself, is still unconfirmed. Both women were diagnosed in northern Germany.
“An 80-year-old woman from Schleswig-Holstein did not die from EHEC, she was found to be infected with the EHEC bacteria, but this did not cause her death,” said the Schleswig-Holstein Health Minister Heiner Garg on Wednesday in Kiel.
There are now in the southern provinces confirmed and suspected cases of the disease. According to a report in the Leipziger Volkszeitung EHEC cases have been recorded in Leipzig but these may not necessarily be related to the current outbreak.
The RKI Commissioner stated that based on other disease reports in Germany. “We must say clearly that we expect additional deaths but there is no cause for hysteria.” The source of infection is still unclear. Figures since mid-May have increased sharply with a survey finding that there have been more than 460 confirmed and suspected cases of EHEC disease.
On Wednesday, the Bundestag Health Committee will also deal with the issue. The Committee Chair Carol Reimann said in the Braunschweiger Zeitung: “There is no cause for hysteria, but we have to deal now with the first deaths, which naturally we all meet with concern.”
Especially large numbers of EHEC-patients have been registered by the authorities in Schleswig-Holstein. There are about 100 people are infected with the bacteria, with twice as many samples still being investigated. “This development exceeds any historic measure,” said the microbiologist Werner Solbach from the University Hospital of Schleswig-Holstein. Hamburg has also reported some 100 cases, so far. EHEC are patients in Lower Saxony, Bremen, Saarland, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Brandenburg and Saxony with hundreds more likely still unconfirmed.
The RKI Commissioner also noted that more than 80 cases were very serious HUS cases. HUS – haemolytic-uremic syndrome is characterized by acute renal failure, anaemia due to the decomposition of red blood cells and a lack of blood platelets. According RKI it is unprecedented to find so many cases in such a short time.
Farmers feel unjustly accused
The aggressive EHEC bacteria have been on the loose in Germany since mid-May. The disease is associated with diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. The bacteria can also cause permanent kidney damage and death. The massive and sudden spread of this organism have left the experts stumped. They suspect that unwashed, vegetables fertilized with manure could be the cause of the infection.
Given the rapid spread of the dangerous EHEC bacteria, SPD-health expert Karl Lauterbach, told Tagesspiegel that “The public must be informed on how to best protect themselves.”
Local farmers feel, however, unjustly accused. “There is speculation that the EHEC pathogens had been spread via manure sprayed on vegetables. It is totally absurd to fertilize vegetables with manure,” said a spokesman for the Chamber of Agriculture of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster. “Manure should only be used on grain, corn or canola fields, but before the seeds are sown.”
Shedding further light on this issue is an unusual cluster of EHEC cases in Frankfurt. Some 19 became infected after eating in the canteen of a consulting firm but the cause was probably contaminated food.