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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

E. coli: Germany optimistic outbreak has peaked

Germany's health minister has said there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that an outbreak of a deadly new strain of E. coli has peaked.

Daniel Bahr told reporters that there were "some arguments suggesting the worst is behind us", but that it was too early to give the all-clear.

The outbreak has so far left 24 dead, infected 2,400 and left hundreds with a complication that attacks the kidneys.

Earlier, the EU proposed 150m euros (£134m) of compensation for farmers.

But agriculture ministers said they wanted much more and that their producers of fruit and vegetables should be compensated for the full amount of their losses, estimated at up to 417m euros (£372m) a week.

The outbreak was wrongly blamed on Spanish cucumbers last week by the health authorities in northern Germany, the centre of the outbreak.

Investigators are still trying to find the real origin of the new strain of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). New cases are still being reported every day, including 94 in Germany on Tuesday.
'Gradually improving'

EU Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli warned Germany against issuing any more premature conclusions - and inaccurate - about the source of contaminated food. Information had to be scientifically sound and foolproof before it was made public, he said.

"It is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection that is not proven by bacteriological analysis," he told the European Parliament.

"This spreads unjustified fears [among] the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers."

But Hamburg state's senator for health, Cornelia Pruefer-Storcks, defended the local authorities' decision to issue a warning about Spanish cucumbers at the beginning of the crisis.

"We had a different situation here in Hamburg when we put out the warning about Spanish cucumbers and removed them from the shelves," she told a news conference.

"In two lab tests we had positive E. coli results, which were confirmed twice by the government laboratory and the EU laboratory, and so this was not a process of consideration but rather it was imperative."

Ms Pruefer-Storcks also said that all test results so far on bean sprouts, which were thought on Sunday to be the source, had been inconclusive.

But she nevertheless said that clinics dealing with the outbreak had told "us that the situation is gradually improving".

"We are seeing the first patients discharged, others are getting much better, so the first glimmers of hope are on the horizon."

Mr Bahr echoed the comments, telling reporters in Berlin: "There are some arguments suggesting the worst is behind us."

Germany's national institution responsible for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, said the number of new cases had declined, but added that it was not certain whether it would continue.

Meanwhile, Dr Guenael Rodier, director of communicable diseases at the World Health Organisation (WHO), said that if the origin of the infection was not identified soon it might never be found.

He told the Associated Press that the German investigation had been "erratic" but that solving such an outbreak was "not an impossible task".

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