Health authorities in Germany have shown that the pathogens which caused the deadly EHEC outbreak came from sprouts at an organic farm in the Uelzen district. The breakthrough was made by scientists in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Final verification, however, is still ongoing.
Reinhard Burger, the head of the country’s disease control agency, said that all the tests on sprouts from the suspect source, had proven negative, but that by studying the pattern of the infection, “it was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the highly probable cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts.”
“The breakthrough in the investigation came when a taskforce linked patients who had fallen ill to 26 restaurants and cafeterias that had received produce from the organic farm.
While the farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel that has been blamed for the outbreak was shut down last Thursday and all its produce recalled, experts said they could not exclude the possibility that some tainted sprouts were still being used by restaurants and people could still get infected with E coli.
Officials said it was possible that other nearby farms could be affected because it had not yet been established whether the seeds or the farm’s water had been contaminated.
In a separate statement on its Web site on Friday, the Robert Koch Institute said the number of new cases of E. coli being reported to it was “clearly lower” than when the outbreak peaked in late May. The death toll in Germany now stood at 30, which included 21 people who had died of the H.U.S. complication. Overall, 2,988 people had been infected, 759 of them with H.U.S.
Sprouts have caused outbreaks of E. Coli before — in Japan in 1996, around 12,680 people were taken ill and 12 died after being infected by radish sprouts from a school canteen, while twin outbreaks in Michigan and Virginia in 1997 were caused by contaminated sprouts traced back to the same batch of seeds originating in Idaho. Two outbreaks in Colorado and Minnesota in 2003 were also blamed on a wholesale seed trader.