German officials seeking source of E. coli outbreak
May 25, 2011
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Health officials in Germany are trying to determine the source of an outbreak of E. coli infection that has sickened people primarily in northern Germany, though cases have also been reported in eastern and southern parts of the country.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were no reported cases of the E. coli infection among the U.S. military community in Germany, said Phillip Tegtmeier, a Europe Regional Medical Command spokesman.
The Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, which is responsible for disease control and prevention, said in a press release that the source of the infection “could still be active.”
The strain of E. coli that has been detected is known as EHEC (enterohemorrhagic e-coli). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such forms of the infection can cause a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in 5 percent to 10 percent of those diagnosed. Officials say it can cause kidney failure and other problems.
The Robert Koch Institute said that, as of Tuesday evening, 140 HUS cases were reported, including three deaths. On average, Germany has about 1,000 reported EHEC cases per year; in 2010 the institute got 65 HUS cases, according to the institute.
According to a spokesman from the Social Ministry in the state of Hesse, 27 of the current HUS cases were reported in the state and a canteen in Frankfurt was shut down because people who ate there were infected.
So far the victims have been adults, primarily women, the institute said.
Army medical officials are tracking the outbreak of the infection in the German population, and Tegtmeier said there has been one confirmed case in the German southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, where several U.S. military bases are located.
Officials have also advised military doctors as to what symptoms to look for, Tegtmeier said, and the command is working on issuing a public health advisory to the military community about how to recognize symptoms of the illness and how to prevent getting infected.
Symptoms vary for each person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but often include severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. Most people get better within five to seven days, according to the CDC, but some infections can be life-threatening.
To prevent infection, the CDC advises people to cook meat thoroughly and to avoid raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juices. To prevent cross-contamination in food preparation, people should thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils after they touch raw meat.