Deadly E. coli outbreak caused by rare strain of bacterium, UN confirms

3 June 2011

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the E. coli infection that has claimed the lives of 17 people in Germany and made more than 1,800 others in Europe sick is a rare strain of the bacterium.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the E. coli infection that has claimed the lives of 17 people in Germany and made more than 1,800 others in Europe sick is a rare strain of the bacterium.

“The strain of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) isolated from cases in the EHEC infection outbreak in Germany is a rare one, seen in humans before but never in an EHEC outbreak,” WHO said in an update on the outbreak issued yesterday.

The molecular and genetic features of the pathogen will help authorities to identify cases in other countries that could be associated with the outbreak in Germany and to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, the agency said.

“While epidemiological and laboratory investigations continue, the source of the outbreak still remains unknown,” according to WHO.

The agency said it was not making any new recommendations for treatment, stressing that normal hygiene measures should be observed, including hand washing after toilet use and before touching food.

“Anyone who develops bloody diarrhoea and abdominal pain, and who has had contact recently with northern Germany, should seek medical advice urgently,” it added.

As of yesterday, 520 cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), including 11 fatal ones, and 1,213 cases of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC), including six deaths, have been reported by Germany, taking the total number of cases in that country to 1,733, including 17 fatalities.

Globally, 552 cases of HUS, 12 of them fatal, and 1271 cases of EHEC without HUS, including six deaths, have been officially reported as of yesterday, bringing the total number of cases outside Germany to 1,823, of which 18 have been fatal, including one in Sweden.

EHEC is a severe strain of E. coli bacterium that is commonly found in the gut of animals, mainly ruminants. It produces toxins, known as Shigatoxins or verotoxins, which damage blood cells and the kidneys, according to WHO.

Symptoms include abdominal cramps and diarrhoea, which may be bloody. Fever and vomiting may also occur.

Most patients recover within 10 days, although in a few cases, especially among young children and the elderly, the infection may lead to a life-threatening disease, such as HUS, which can lead to acute kidney failure, haemolytic anaemia and low platelet count.

 

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