Known facts about killer bacterium

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German authorities have yet to pinpoint the origin of a lethal, apparently food-borne bacterium that has killed at least 23 people, all but one in Germany.

Herewith the known facts about the enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) outbreak, which has sickened more than 2,000 people and cost European vegetable farmers millions in lost sales in the month since the contamination emerged.

- Symptoms of EHEC poisoning include stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and vomiting.

In some cases it can lead to bloody diarrhoea and potentially life-threatening conditions such as haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a serious kidney ailment.

- Most of the 22 dead in Germany have been elderly women, according to the national health centre, the Robert Koch Institute, but it could not provide a precise breakdown in terms of gender. The victims ranged in age from 22 to 91.

- Although most cases of EHEC poisoning have been reported in Germany, it has turned up in 13 other countries: Austria, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Almost all patients had recently travelled to Germany.

- According to the World Health Organisation, the origin of the virulent bacterium strain could be a type of food preferred by women, given that significantly more females have fallen victim.

But despite initial suspicion of a link to organic cucumbers from Spain or sprouts from northern Germany, initial tests have been negative.

German authorities admitted Monday they were still in the dark as to the source of the outbreak but said they would maintain a warning on sprouts as well as raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, particularly in the north of the country. They have not ruled out person-to-person transmission.

- Russia and Lebanon banned imports of vegetables from European Union countries in light of the scare, while Qatar blacklisted cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce from Spain and Germany.

© 2011 AFP

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