More E coli deaths feared

2011-06-12 14:40

Berlin - Germany's health minister warned on Sunday of more deaths from an outbreak of E coli that has already killed at least 33 people, despite the source having been identified and new infections falling.

"More fatalities cannot be ruled out, painful though it is to say so," Daniel Bahr told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"The continuing fall in the number of new infections gives grounds for optimism. But that does not rule out more cases of EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E coli)," he said.

All but one of the 33 deaths from EHEC poisoning have been in Germany, with the other being a woman in Sweden who had recently travelled to Germany. More than 3 000 people have also fallen ill in 14 countries.

Authorities have identified the source of the weeks-long outbreak as being vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony, northern Germany.

The farm has been closed and all its products recalled. The farm cultivated sprouts from a variety of products including lettuce, azuki beans, mung beans, fenugreek, alfalfa and lentils.

With German authorities only late last week dropping advice, particularly in northern Germany, to avoid uncooked tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, the scare has cost European farmers hundreds of millions of euros.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease agency, still recommends not eating raw vegetable sprouts.

Particularly badly hit were Spanish producers after Germany initially and erroneously blamed cucumbers grown there.

Russia also banned the import of all fresh vegetables from the whole of the 27-nation European Union. Moscow agreed at a summit with the EU on Friday to lift the ban.