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  • Europe's E-coli crisis


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        HAMBURG, June 5, 2011 — Germany's national disease control center says three more people have died in an E. coli outbreak in Europe, raising the total to 22. Reinhard Burger, head of the Robert Koch Institute, says in addition to the 21 people killed in Germany and one in Sweden, another 2,153 have been sickened, including 627 people who have developed a rare complication that can cause kidney failure. The Lower Saxony agriculture ministry, meanwhile, said locally grown beansprouts have been identified as the likely cause of the outbreak. Ministry spokesman Gert Hahne told The Associated Press on Sunday his agency is warning people to stop eating the sprouts, which are often used in mixed salads.

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          HAMBOURG/HANOVRE, Dimanche 5 Juin 2011 (Reuters) -- Des germes de soja sont peut-être ?* la source de l'épidémie d'E. coli qui a fait 22 morts et touché plus de 2.000 personnes en trois semaines en Europe, principalement en Allemagne. Le ministre de l'Agriculture de Basse-Saxe a estimé dimanche que des germes de soja étaient la piste "la plus convaincante" dans l'enquête visant ?* déterminer la source de l'épidémie. Une entreprise d'Ülzen, au sud de Hambourg, épicentre de l'épidémie, a été fermée et les résultats des tests pratiqués devraient être connus lundi, a indiqué Ger Lindemann lors d'une conférence de presse retransmise sur la chaîne de télévision N-TV. "Une piste très évidente a mené (?* cette entreprise) comme source de la contamination", a déclaré Lindemann, exhortant les consommateurs du nord de l'Allemagne ?* ne pas consommer ce genre de germes. "Il s'agit de la source la plus convaincante de l'épidémie d'E. coli", a-t-il ajouté. Dans un communiqué, le ministère précise que les germes de soja de l'entreprise en question étaient vendus ?* des restaurants dans l'Etat de Hambourg. Les hôpitaux allemands peinent ?* faire face ?* l'afflux de malades atteints par la bactérie. Dans les hôpitaux de Hambourg, les médecins se concentrent désormais sur les malades qui ont contracté la bactérie et repoussent ?* plus tard les opérations non urgentes. "Nous faisons face ?* une situation délicate", reconnaît le ministre allemand de la Santé Daniel Bahr dans le Bild am Sonntag. Devant l'importance du nombre de malades dans la seconde ville d'Allemagne, des hôpitaux situés hors de la cité hanséatique pourraient être amenés ?* accueillir des patients, a-t-il ajouté.

          Lors d'une conférence de presse, la ministre de la Santé de Hambourg, Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, a fait savoir que les autorités locales s'efforçaient de pallier le manque d'effectifs au sein des hôpitaux. "Nous voulons voir avec les médecins qui sont partis récemment en retraite s'ils peuvent reprendre provisoirement leur activité", a-t-elle dit, ajoutant que le personnel médical de Hambourg était épuisé. Les scientifiques imputent la contamination au non respect des règles d'hygiène dans la chaîne de commercialisation des légumes frais. La bactérie incriminée produit des shigatoxines pouvant entraîner des diarrhées banales ou sanglantes qui peuvent évoluer vers une complication grave. Le syndrome hémolytique et urémique (SHU) a déj?* été diagnostiqué chez plusieurs centaines de patients. Un porte-parole de Regio Clinics, plus grande clinique privée du Land du Schleswig-Holstein, près de Hambourg, a souligné que la réponse ?* la crise actuelle exigeait des moyens considérables. "Les hôpitaux de la région font l'impossible pour faire face ?* la situation", a-t-il dit. "Certains de nos patients doivent être transférés dans d'autres hôpitaux, notamment ceux présentant le SHU ou ceux qui doivent subir des dialyses." "Les opérations non urgentes ont été reportées. Il semble toutefois que la situation s'améliore, nous avons maintenant 60 patients en isolement alors qu'ils étaient 109 vendredi", a ajouté le porte-parole. Les autorités sanitaires continuent de déconseiller la consommation de légumes frais dans le nord du pays. "Je suis végétarien donc c'est particulièrement difficile pour moi", dit un chauffeur de taxi, Wolfang Roenisch. "Je ne mange plus de concombres, de tomates ou de salades." Amin Najibi, propriétaire d'un petit restaurant, n'a quant ?* lui pas constaté de vent de panique chez ses clients. "Nous continuons ?* servir de la salade même si la demande a un peu diminué. Je pense que les gens consomment normalement", a-t-il dit.

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                June 6, 2011 -- An investigation into a deadly outbreak of E coli has been thrown into chaos after laboratory tests showed that bean sprouts grown near Hamburg, which had been identified as the likely source, are possibly not to blame. German officials had said they were confident that sprouts from the organic Gärtenhof farm in Lower Saxony were behind the spread of a particularly virulent strain of the bacterium. There were "strong and clear indications" that the farm was involved, the federal health minister, Daniel Bahr, said. However, Lower Saxony's agriculture ministry said 23 of 40 samples from the farm had now tested negative for the E coli, with 17 more tests still being done. "The search for the outbreak's cause is very difficult as several weeks have passed since its suspected start," the ministry said in a statement, while warning that the negative tests did not conclusively prove the sprouts had not been contaminated. The ministry said it may be some time before Europe's shoppers know for sure what foodstuffs are safe: "A conclusion of the investigations and a clarification of the contamination's origin is not expected in the short term."

                Mounting suspicions that the outbreak originated in Germany caused outrage in Spain, which has seen a slump in demand for its vegetables after Spanish-grown cucumbers were initially blamed. The EU is to hold an emergency meeting to consider ways to compensate Spanish farmers for their losses. "There has been a drop in consumption around Europe," said European commission spokesman Roger Waite. "It has taken on a European-wide crisis impact so we really need to have a European-wide solution."

                The aggressive strain has so far killed 22 people, made more than 2,200 ill and prompted Russia to bar EU fruit and vegetable imports. The owner of the sprout farm, in the village of Steddorf, near the small town of Bienenbüttel, 40 miles south of Hamburg, had said he was baffled at being implicated, saying there were no animals or animal products on the site. "The salad sprouts are grown only from seeds and water, and they aren't fertilised at all," Klaus Verbeck told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung. "There aren't any animal fertilisers used in other areas on the farm either." The farm has withdrawn its goods from sale.

                While bean sprouts are seen as a healthy food, they have been linked to a series of previous E coli and salmonella outbreaks. U.S. experts have warned for over a decade that young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems should not consume them raw, advice now mirrored by the UK's Food Standards Agency. The sprouts are grown in water heated to about 38C, ideal conditions for bacteria to flourish, meaning that even a tiny initial source of contamination can multiply many times over.

                The situation has strained ties between Germany and Spain and led the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to say he would not "poison" Russians by lifting an embargo on EU fruit and vegetable imports. Lower Saxony's agriculture minister, Gert Lindemann, said earlier it was possible the contaminated produce had found its way into a variety of foods but there was a "clear trail" to the farm. "It is the most convincing … source for the E coli illnesses. This is for us the most plausible cause of the illness." However, he added that consumers should continue to avoid raw cucumbers, tomatoes and salad leaves, as advised by Germany's main health body, the Robert Koch Institute.

                The bacterium has so far infected people in 12 countries. All of them had been travelling in northern Germany. It has killed 21 Germans and one Swede. Many of those infected have developed haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a potentially deadly complication attacking the kidneys. Spanish farmers say they have lost €200 million (£178 million) in sales a week. The crisis threatens to put 70,000 people out of work in Spain, which already has the highest unemployment in the EU.

                Bahr said health facilities in Hamburg were struggling to cope with the flood of victims. Germany's second city is the centre of the outbreak. Hospital authorities said blood supplies were running low and staff were exhausted and working round the clock, with the northern cities of Hamburg and Bremen the worst affected. "They [the doctors] voluntarily come in on weekends and even sleep here," Oliver Grieve, a spokesman for the Kiel university hospital, told Spiegel Online. Hamburg's health minister, Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, told a news conference the city was considering bringing doctors out of retirement. "We want to discuss with doctors about whether those who recently retired can be reactivated," she said. Patients with less serious illnesses are being moved to nearby hospitals and operations for non-threatening diseases are being postponed.

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                    June 7, 2011 -- The EU's health commissioner has criticised Germany for rushing out "premature conclusions" about the source of a mass E coli outbreak, saying such actions spread alarm among the public and damaged the agriculture sector. Speaking ahead of emergency talks by EU agriculture ministers, John Dalli also said the outbreak, which has so far killed 22 people and made at least 2,200 ill, had been contained to a relatively small area. "I stress that the outbreak is limited geographically to the area surrounding the city of Hamburg, so there is no reason to take action on a European level. [EU-wide] measures against any product are disproportionate," he told the European parliament.

                    At the start of the outbreak, which involves a newly identified and particularly virulent strain of the bacterium, Germany blamed Spanish produce, saying cucumbers from the country at Hamburg's market had been found to contain E coli. Following fierce protests from Spain, which relies heavily on farm exports, German ministers eventually admitted they had got it wrong. The same process was repeated on Monday when tests on bean sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony, identified by German officials as almost certainly the cause of the outbreak, came back negative.

                    "I would like to stress it is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection which is not proven by bacteriological analysis, as this spreads unjustified fears in the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers selling products in the EU and outside the EU," Dalli said. "While such intensive investigations are ongoing, we must be careful not to make premature conclusions," he added, singling out Germany's actions in describing bean sprouts as the likely source before laboratory tests had been completed.

                    The ministerial meeting follows demands by EU farmers, particularly in Spain, that they be compensated for losses. Sales of salad vegetables have plummeted around the continent, while Russia has banned imports of all vegetables from the bloc. There are hopes the Russian ban might soon ease. The country's chief sanitary official, Gennady Onishchenko, told the Interfax news agency EU officials had promised to pass on samples of the E coli strain, which would help Russia make a decision.

                    Two weeks after news of the mass outbreak emerged, the source of the bacterium remains a mystery. German ministers had said there were "strong and clear indications" that bean sprouts from the Gärtenhof organic farm, 40 miles from Hamburg, spread the E coli. However, a first set of 23 results from 40 samples taken at the farm were negative, Lower Saxony's agriculture ministry said in a statement.

                    While the structure of the compensation package and the amount of aid have yet to be defined, the European commission said on Monday it expected ministers to reach a provisional agreement at the Luxembourg summit. "I'm not sure that we will actually have a legal proposal on the table tomorrow ... I think our hope is that we can reach an agreement in principle," the commission's agriculture spokesman, Roger Waite, said.

                    The tests at the Gärtenhof farm came back too late to prevent the neaby small town of Bienenbüttel, in Lower Saxony's rural heartland, being overrun by reporters. German officials said the farm could still be the source of the outbreak, even if all the tests come back negative. Bean sprouts had seemed a likely culprit, having previously been implicated in E coli outbreaks in the U.S. and Japan. They are grown in water heated to 38C, ideal for bacteria to flourish. U.S. scientists warn that young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems should not consume them raw, advice now taken up by the UK Food Standards Agency. Hugh Pennington, the professor who led inquiries into two major UK outbreaks of E coli, said: "They've done experimental studies on contaminating bean sprouts and seeing what happens to the bacteria during sprouting, and you can get up to a million-fold increase in bacteria. It's like incubating a culture of bacteria."

                    In Brussels, one EU source said the most likely solution for financial aid being discussed was to extend an existing EU crisis prevention scheme, which compensates fruit and vegetable producers for withdrawing products from the market. Under this plan, producers would receive until the end of June about 30% of the value of unsold products paid directly from the EU budget, although the exact percentage was still being discussed, the source said. Spain has threatened legal action against German regional authorities for wrongly identifying Spanish cucumbers as the source of the outbreak, but the commission insisted the crisis had affected all EU producers. "We've seen a drop in consumption. There was already a problem with consumption before any comment was made about Spanish cucumbers," said Waite. "The important point as far as we're concerned is that we find an EU solution to what is an EU-wide problem ... that supports all fruit and vegetable producers across the Union."

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                        Mercredi 8 Juin 2011 -- L'Algérie reste vigilante face ?* l'épidémie provoquée par la bactérie mortelle Eceh, apparue fin mai en Europe, a indiqué mercredi ?* Alger le ministre de l'Agriculture, M. Rachid Benaïssa. "Nous suivons de très près ce qui se passe (en Europe). Vous savez que jusqu'?* aujourd'hui, l'origine de cette bactérie n'a pas encore été trouvée", a déclaré le ministre, cité par l'agence de presse APS. Selon le ministre, chaque produit alimentaire importé ne peut entrer sur le marché algérien qu'avec une dérogation sanitaire et doit subir un contrôle phytosanitaire adéquat. "Aucun problème n'a été signalé pour le moment (en Algérie), mais nous restons vigilants", a-t-il précisé. La traque se poursuivait mercredi pour identifier l'origine de la contamination par une souche rare et très virulente de la bactérie E.coli entérohémorragique (Eceh), qui a fait 24 morts, dont 23 en Allemagne et un en Suède, et qui se traduit par des diarrhées sanglantes et des troubles rénaux parfois mortels (syndrome appelé SHU).

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