Killer bacteria toll rises to 36

13th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The death toll from a killer bacteria outbreak rose to 36 Monday as Germany said a warning to avoid eating cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes, initially suspected of carrying the bug, had seen up to 10 percent of crops destroyed.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease agency, said 3,228 people had fallen sick from the virulent EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E. coli) or the linked kidney ailment haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).

All 36 deaths have occured in Germany except one patient who died in Sweden but who had travelled to the country.

"For many days the number of new infections from EHEC or HUS communicated to the RKI has declined in the country," the agency said in a statement that upped the previous number of fatal cases by one.

After several frantic weeks of searching, German authorities said on Friday they had identified the contamination source as being vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony, northern Germany.

The farm cultivated sprouts from a variety of products including lettuce, azuki beans, mung beans, fenugreek, alfalfa and lentils. It has been closed and all its products recalled.

Authorities have said that the business in the northern village of Bienenbuettel had done nothing wrong however.

With health officials only late last week dropping advice, particularly in northern Germany, to avoid uncooked tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, the scare has cost European farmers hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).

German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said that between five and ten percent of the three salad vegetables' crops had been destroyed in Germany.

"About 5,900 tonnes of cucumbers, 1,300 hectares of lettuce and 3,500 tonnes of tomatoes have had to be destroyed," the minister told Tuesday's Neue Osnabrueker Zeitung newspaper.

Aigner defended health officials' advice however. "Protecting consumers from health risks will always take priority over economic interests, even if that causes serious financial setbacks for some businesses," she told the paper.

The RKI still recommends not eating raw vegetable sprouts.

Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment said Sunday the outbreak is the most serious of its kind recorded in the world to date.

© 2011 AFP

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