16 people have died and more than 1,000 are ill (with 400 of those in critical condition) due to a sudden outbreak of E. coli, according to the latest reports from Europe. Originally confined to Germany, cases have since been reported in Denmark, France, the Czech Republic, the U.K., the Netherlands, Switzerland and now even the United States. The common thread in nearly all of them is Germany, where authorities suspect contaminated vegetables triggered the outbreak. Two batches of cucumbers imported from Spain were found to be contaminated, and German health officials are currently testing another from either Denmark or the Netherlands.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, denied that Spanish produce was at fault. “If it was from the cucumbers, there would be cases (of illness) in Spain,” he said. “The Hamburg (Germany) authorities don’t know where it comes from. I understand they have a problem. We have said, ‘You need to say it wasn’t us’ [...] we have lost a lot of money and a lot of image.”
Nonetheless, according to CNN several European countries have stopped importing Spanish produce. On Monday Russia banned cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh lettuce from both Spain and Germany, warning it may extend that ban to the rest of the European Union.
The strain of E. coli linked to this outbreak is particularly dangerous because it can lead to full-on kidney failure. Early symptoms of infection include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises anyone experiencing these symptoms to see a doctor as soon as possible. To protect against infection, the WHO recommends consumers
- Make sure all cooking surfaces and utensils are washed and sanitized
- Always wash their hands before preparing food, and after using the toilet
- Separate raw food (such as meat and seafood) from cooked foods during preparation
- Cook all food thoroughly (E. coli bacteria cannot survive temperatures above 70 degrees C)
- Use safe water
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them, especially if they will be eaten raw