The number of people killed by the E. coli outbreak in Germany has risen to 35 – although officials have claimed that the number of new cases of illness is showing signs of falling.
The Robert Koch Institute said today (13 June) that 35 people had died from either the EHEC O104:H4 E. coli strain or the HUS syndrome that, in some cases, has led from the contamination.
A further 3,228 have fallen ill from the outbreak, which the Institute believes is linked to contaminated bean sprouts from a farm in the state of Lower Saxony. A further update on the outbreak is due tomorrow.
On Friday, the Institute said there had been a decline in the number of new EHEC infections. However, it said it could not be sure if this was due to changes in the consumption of cucumbers, tomato and lettuce or whether the source of the infection was disappearing.
Nevertheless, the Institute – alongside Germany’s Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety and the country’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment – said a previous warning that consumers in northern Germany should stop eating cucumbers, tomato and lettuce should no longer remain in force.
“According to the current state of knowledge, products from the agricultural business in Lower Saxony are the most likely source of the EHEC infections,” a joint statement said.
However, the three institutions said on Friday that they had yet to determine how the strain of E. coli had entered the food chain.
The outbreak has caused confusion among consumers and angered farmers in some EU member states. Health officials in Germany at first mistakenly blamed the outbreak on imports of cucumbers from Spain. Last week, officials suggested bean sprouts could be the source but then initial tests cast doubt on that link. On Friday, however, officials suggested there could in fact be a link.
Tomorrow, ministers from EU member states will discuss a rescue package from The European Commission for farmers that have seen their businesses hit by the outbreak.
Member states turned down the Commission’s first offer of EUR150m (US$215.8m) in compensation, prompting Brussels to return to the table with an improved package of EUR210m. Neither offer has won over EU farmers union Copa-Cogeca, which wants more funds made available.