E. coli in Germany
Don't shoot the cucumber
A deadly outbreak in Hamburg causes ripples round Europe
Jun 2nd 2011 | BERLIN | from the print edition
SEVENTEEN deaths, some 1,500 confirmed or suspected cases and hundreds of millions of euros in losses: the outbreak of E. coli infections in northern Germany is causing havoc across Europe. The culprit is an especially nasty strain of E. coli, which normally resides harmlessly in the gut. Type O104:H4 can cause bloody diarrhoea, convulsions and, most lethally, haemolytic-uraemic syndrome, which attacks the kidneys. Nearly all the dead are women. Nobody knows why.
German health authorities at first traced the infection to organic cucumbers from Spain and advised people to avoid them, along with salad and raw tomatoes. Now it seems the cucumbers were innocent (though some may have been contaminated with another strain). But the vegetable warning still stands, and the economic and political damage is mounting.
Spanish growers claim that they are suffering losses of