Resistant to Antibiotics E. Coli Outbreak in Germany Claims First Victim
Health officials in Germany are in a state of alarm over an outbreak of E. coli infections that has already caused one confirmed death.
The health ministry in the northwestern German state of Lower Saxony announced on Tuesday that an 83-year-old woman had died after being infected with E. coli. She was admitted to hospital with bloody diarrhea on May 15 and died on Saturday, the ministry said. Health authorities confirmed that tests had confirmed the woman was infected with the E. coli pathogen.
In Bremen, authorities reported that a young woman with symptoms of an E. coli infection had died in the early hours of Tuesday, but laboratory tests have yet to confirm the diagnosis. A third woman infected with E. coli died in Schleswig-Holstein on Sunday, but the cause of death was unclear. The woman was over 80 and was in hospital to have an operation.
The current outbreak involves a strain known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). Symptoms of an infection include bloody diarrhea and stomach cramps. In some cases, an infection can cause a disease called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure and even death.
The outbreak began in the second week of May, and authorities in Germany have so far recorded over 400 confirmed or suspected cases of EHEC infections. Around 40 cases are said to be very serious. On Monday night, several patients were fighting for their lives, with some having to be artificially ventilated. One patient was in a coma.
Around 1,000 people become infected with the pathogen each year in Germany, but experts say the current infection rate is unusually high. "The current trend exceeds any historical comparison," said microbiologist Werner Solbach from the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel. According to Solbach, laboratory tests have shown that the current outbreak involves a bacterial strain that is partially resistant to antibiotics.
The source of the outbreak is not known, but it is currently hypothesized that the patients contracted the infection by eating unwashed vegetables. The outbreak is currently concentrated in the north of Germany, and most of the victims are adult women. There are over 200 suspected cases in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and almost 100 in Lower Saxony. Other cases have been reported in the states of Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland, as well as in the city-states of Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin.
The German government is concerned about the outbreak. Health Minister Daniel Bahr spoke to the head of the Robert Koch Institute, the central German institution for disease control and prevention, in a telephone call about the situation, a spokesman said Tuesday. Health authorities advised people in Germany to be careful about hygiene, to thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables, and to contact a doctor immediately in the events of symptoms such as bloody diarrhea.
E. coli bacteria usually live in the intestines of ruminants and can be transferred to humans who eat uncooked food.