Source of German illnesses remains unknown

by Keith Nunes
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BERLIN — Identifying the source of the E. coli outbreak that has infected more than a thousand residents and visitors to northern Germany has turned into a temper test for both farmers and public health investigators. Initial reports pinned the source of the contamination on vegetables from Spain. The idea was quickly proven to be false. This past weekend bean sprouts from a single farm in northern Germany were cited as a possible source. But today public health authorities announced initial tests showed the bean sprouts may not be the cause, leaving the source once again unknown.

What is known about the outbreak is that most of the people who have fallen ill are from or have a history of travel to northern Germany. Since May 2, 661 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and 1,672 non-HUS cases have been reported from European Union member states.

What makes the outbreak so unusual is HUS-caused infections are normally observed in children under the age of five. In the current outbreak, many of those that have fallen ill are adults, with more than two-thirds of the adults being women.

On June 3, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the agency has established certain import controls on fresh produce imported from the E.U.

“When these products are presented for import, we will sample them, and we will analyze them,” said Dara Corrigan, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, who is responsible for U.S. F.D.A. border activities. “The F.D.A. will not allow any products found to be contaminated to enter the U.S., and, if contamination is found, will flag future shipments for appropriate action. As more information about the source of the outbreak emerges, we will adjust our public health protection efforts, especially those at the border, accordingly.”

The F.D.A also iterated that the food-borne illness outbreak has not affected fresh produce in the United States.

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