Two in U.S. Victims of German E. coli Outbreak

The massive <"">E. coli outbreak that appears to have originated in Germany has reached United States consumers. The widely reported outbreak that has, to date, killed 16 people and sickened over 1,150 in Europe, has also sickened two Americans who were traveling in northern Germany, said MSNBC.

The outbreak appears to have started the second week in May, said federal health officials, and has left victims hospitalized with the serious, often deadly, symptoms commonly associated with the well-known E. coli O156:H7. This strain, however, E. coli strain 0104:H4, is extremely rare and has left scientists baffled, according to Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of foodborne, bacterial, and mycotic diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC), said MSNBC. “We have never seen that organism before,” Tauxe told

Many of the symptoms seen in E. coli 0104:H4 can lead to many of the problems seen in E. coli O157:H7, such as bloody diarrhea and the very dangerous and sometimes deadly hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), explained MSNBC. HUS can lead to kidney failure.

The investigation into the two U.S. victims continues, said Tauxe. Their names, state, and other locating information has not been released; the illnesses were reported by state health officials monitoring illness surveillance systems for signs that the E. coli 0104:H4 had reached the U.S., said MSNBC, which noted that state health agencies must report cases of HUS or bloody diarrhea in those who recently visited Germany.

Also, the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) is pulling and inspecting cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes grown by growers from Spain connected to the outbreak.

According to Tauxe and other experts, the cases are expected to spread beyond Germany and the eight other European nations involved, and to the U.S. “It’s hard for me to believe there won’t be a handful of travelers who ate contaminated food in a restaurant,” said Dr. Dennis Maki, an infectious disease expert and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Department of Medicine. “I’ll be surprised if we don’t have a few cases,” quoted MSNBC.

This rare strain of E. coli is a Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, or STEC and is multi-antibiotic resistance, said Tauxe. Because of the outcomes for HUS—kidney failure and acute anemia—those sickened are treated with dialysis and other crisis treatments, not antibiotics. “It takes a lot of support care,” Tauxe said.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces. While some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, deadly, and toxin producing and part of a group of E. coli called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTECs/STECs, also known as Shiga-producing E. coli. Strain E. coli O157:H7 is largely known as falling into this category—strain 0104:H4, involved in this outbreak, falls into this dangerous category. These strains produce a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible.

As of the latest reports, 373 people have been diagnosed with HUS, a disorder that involves the E. coli pathogen damaging the kidneys, which can lead to critical care treatments, said WebMD; 796 others were also sickened with E. coli. The source of the pathogen remains unknown, but the outbreak has been potentially linked to raw cucumbers, lettuce, or tomatoes from Spain’s Almeria and Malaga regions; another batch may have come from Denmark or the Netherlands, said MSNBC. It is also not know at what point in the vegetables’ travels—from farms to stores/restaurants—the contamination occurred.

Cases have been reported in Germany, Denmark, France, the Czech Republic, the U.K., the Netherlands, and Switzerland; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it only received confirmation of the German and six cases in France, said MSNBC.

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