The New “E. Coli” Has Already Spread to Twelve Countries

New E. coli Victim
A victim of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) in an isolated hospital bed in the Eppendorf University Clinic in Hamburg. Photo by Reuters.

Alimentary Crisis
The New “E. Coli” Has Already Spread to Twelve Countries
In at least two cases, the sick were not in Germany during the incubation period
El País: La nueva ‘E. coli’ se extiende ya a 12 países
Emilio de Benito reporting from Madrid June 3, 2011

The new E. coli that broke out in Germany a week ago has already been detected in 12 countries. Apart from the focal country, there are cases in Austria (two), the Czech Republic (one), Denmark (seventeen), France (six), Holland (eight), Norway (one), Spain (one), Sweden (forty-three with one death), Switzerland (two), the United Kingdom (seven), and the United States (two), according to the World Health Organization’s European office. In total, there have been 90 victims divided into two groups: those who have the enterohemorrhagic bacteria (which causes diarrhea with blood) and those who have developed the dangerous hemolytic uremia (a kind of renal insufficiency). In addition, there have been 1733 affected in Germany (17 deaths), where 199 new cases have been registered in the last two days, 50 of them with the hemolytic uremic syndrome, according to the data released today by the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

The immense majority of the affected non-Germans contracted the disease inside that country; they were in the northern part of the country some days before becoming gravely ill (the incubation period is three or four days long). One person didn’t travel there but lives with someone who did. There are two more who weren’t in Germany and haven’t had contact with travelers to that country. These last, about which the WHO hasn’t given data, could help researchers track the bacteria’s transmission method. Or they could be false positives (now that it’s known exactly what kind of microorganism causes the illness, analyses will have to be refined).

What hasn’t changed is the rest of the situation. Researchers still don’t know where the bacteria came from or how it got into the food and water supply. The proper treatment isn’t clear, either; the normal defense mechanism, antibiotics, could be contraindicated [inadvisable] because the bacteria is resistant to them and they could provoke the creation of a more toxic shiga.

In addition, the situation could claim another victim: the relationship between the two principal sanitary organizations in Europe, the regional WHO office and the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC). This last was the first to identify the bacteria has a strain of the type tipo 0104:H4 with an intensive description of its genes. And after yesterday’s announcements by WHO representative Hilde Kruse, the ECDC released a note denying that the bacteria could properly be called a mutation, as it is one known strain that has acquired the genes of another.

This kind of discussion is important for both organizations. The WHO has to regain the credibility it lost during the Type A Influenza outbreak and on a lesser scale after its recent announcement about the possible cancerous effect of cell phones. The ECDC, for its part, is a young organization (created in 2005) that could gain prestige as a reference center.

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