Hundreds take ill in Germany in deadly E coli infection outbreak

In Germany, more than 1,500 people have come down with infection from an unusually lethal strain of E coli bacteria, leaving public health officials mystified. Meanwhile, panic gripped Europe with people wondering whether it was safe to eat raw vegetables.

In Berlin alone 20 cases have been reported.

The outbreak of infection has killed at least 16 people - 15 in Germany and a Swedish national who visited the country recently. The source of the outbreak, however, remains unknown.

Public health officials are alarmed due to the high incidence among those infected of potentially lethal complication attacking the kidneys, called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause comas, seizures and stroke.

According to Dr Robert Tauxe, deputy director of food-borne disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the rate of cases of acute kidney failure in the outbreak was unprecedented, which made it an extraordinarily large and severe event.
While most of the reported infections were seen in people who had traveled to northern Germany, the authorities acknowledged that the outbreak had spread across the country.
Such is the fear among the general public that most of them are not even buying cherries, even though the authorities have only pointed to cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes as potential sources of infection.

In Motril, a town in the agricultural heartland of Spain, greenhouses had no workers as demand for vegetables fell steeply after the announcement by German authorities that Spain was the a source of the outbreak.