KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – U.S. military medical officials are investigating two suspected cases of E. coli infection in two U.S. servicemembers who were recently admitted to local German hospitals with intestinal problems.

Test results on stool samples are expected on Monday, said Phillip Tegtmeier, Europe Regional Medical Command spokesman, on Friday.

“We’re testing (for E. coli) as a precaution,” he said. If the tests come back negative “that really puts our minds at ease.”

The E. coli outbreak that started in northern Germany early last month has sickened more than 1,600 people in 12 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Health authorities say at least 18 people have died.

One of the Americans, a U.S. soldier, was treated and since released in the Heidelberg area, Tegtmeier said. The other, an airman, is still hospitalized near Spangdahlem Air Base, in southwest Germany.

Tegtmeier would not disclose the troops’ gender, age or other details about their symptoms or hospital location to protect their privacy.

The U.S. military sent either a patient liaison or public health technician to interview the two patients, asking them about their recent travel history – including whether they visited northern Germany, the epicenter of the outbreak – and what foods they recently ate, Tegtmeier said.

No source of the bacteria has been identified yet, but health experts believe it came from tainted vegetables, after numerous patients reported eating salads or raw vegetables before getting sick.

The stool sample testing, being conducted by a German lab, takes about three to four days to get results, Tegtmeier said.

The World Health Organization in Europe reported Thursday that the strain of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli isolated in the outbreak in Germany is rare. The bacteria is especially resistant to antibiotics and has caused serious complications, including kidney failure, in hundreds of people.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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