WHO Issues E. coli Outbreak Update

Background: On June 10, German authorities stated that mounting epidemiological and food-chain evidence indicated that bean and seed sprouts (including fenugreek, mung beans, lentils, adzuki beans and alfalfa) are the vehicle of the outbreak in Germany. Also on June 10, authorities from the Robert Koch-Institute (RKI), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) jointly stated that mounting epidemiological and food-chain evidence indicated that bean and seed sprouts (including fenugreek, mung beans, lentils, adzuki beans and alfalfa) are the vehicle of the outbreak in Germany caused by the unusual enteroaggregative verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (EAggEC VTEC) O104:H4 bacterium.

The authorities now recommend that people in Germany should not eat raw bean and seed sprouts of any origin. Households, caterers and restaurants should dispose of any bean and seed sprouts that they have, and any food items that might have been in contact with them, until further notice. In addition, BfR advises against eating home-grown, uncooked sprouts and seedlings.

The recommendation not to eat cucumbers, tomatoes and leafy salads in northern Germany is cancelled. The authorities recommend withdrawal from the market of all food products from a farm in Lower Saxony, where the implicated bean and seed sprouts originated.

Numerous investigations continue, including into delivery chains. So far, there is no evidence that bean and seed sprouts from the farm have been exported beyond Germany.

The authorities recommend strict adherence to general hygiene advice when handling food items, after using the toilet and when health professionals are in contact with patients.

Haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS)

As of June 13, Germany had reported 782 HUS cases (including 22 fatalities): only one more case since the previous day. Sixty-eight percent of cases were in females and 88 percent in adults aged 20 years or older, with the highest attack rates per 100 000 population in the group aged 20 to 49 years. Case-onset dates ranged from May1 to June 8.

Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC)

As of June 13, 2,453 cases of EHEC infection (without HUS) had been reported in Germany (13 fatal): six more cases and one more death since the previous day. Fifty-nine percent of cases were in females and 87 percent in adults aged 20 years or older. Case-onset dates ranged from 1 May to 9 June.

On June 14, RKI stated that, for approximately the past week, the number of notified HUS/EHEC cases reported to them had markedly declined. Data from sentinel surveillance of bloody diarrhea in hospital emergency departments also suggest a decrease in the absolute and relative numbers of cases presenting since May 30. It is still uncertain whether this decline in outbreak activity is due to changing consumption of raw vegetables and/or the waning of the source of infection.

Other countries

As of June 13, 13 other European countries had reported a total of 36 HUS cases (one fatal) and 66 EHEC cases (none fatal): In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, United States of America published information on 3 HUS cases (one confirmed and two suspected) and two suspected EHEC cases (without HUS) in the United States linked to this outbreak. On June 7, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported on one suspected case of E. coli O104 infection (without HUS), in a person with travel history to northern Germany and with links to a confirmed case of E. coli O104 infection in Germany.

Since June 10, no more HUS or EHEC cases or deaths have been reported from outside Germany. The EHEC bacteria strain found in a Helsinki daycare centre last week is not the same as that causing the German outbreak, according to the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). As of June 14, no further EHEC cases had emerged at the daycare centre.

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