Europe

E. coli cucumber scare: Spain angry at German claims

  • 31 May 2011
  • From the section Europe
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Spain has expressed anger at links being made between Spanish cucumbers and a deadly E. coli outbreak.

The country's agriculture minister said Germany pointed to Spanish cucumbers "without having reliable data".

Meanwhile, German officials have voiced doubts about whether the Spanish cucumbers they are investigating carried the deadly E. coli strain.

The outbreak has led to 16 deaths - 15 in Germany and a woman who died in Sweden after travelling to Germany.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease institute, says more than 1,150 people within Germany have been affected by enterohaemorrhagic E. coli, also known as EHEC.

In many instances, the gastrointestinal infection has led to Haemolytic-uraemic Syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal.

'Domino effect'

The RKI has confirmed 373 cases of HUS in Germany.

German authorities initially pointed to organic cucumbers from Spain.

But Spanish officials have refused to accept the blame, saying it is still unclear exactly when and where the vegetables were contaminated.

Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar said: "We are disappointed by the way Germany handles the situation."

"We want Germany to provide, without any delay and distractions, the necessary information of its investigation so that the European Union can know what is causing the E. coli outbreak."

Speaking at an EU meeting in Hungary, she also said the issue should be treated as a "common problem" and that there should be compensation for Spanish and other European producers affected.

The Netherlands has also said it will ask for compensation.

The president of Spain's fruit and vegetable export federation has urged the government to deal with the outbreak, saying it was costing Spanish exporters $200m (£120m) a week.

Asked which countries had stopped buying Spanish produce, Jorge Brotons was quoted as telling a news conference: "Almost all Europe. There is a domino effect on all vegetables and fruits."

'Outbreak could worsen'

Authorities in Hamburg said four suspect cucumbers found there last week - including three imported from Spain - were carrying EHEC, but not the same kind found in patients.

"As before the source remains unidentified," Hamburg state health minister Cornelia Pruefer-Storcks said.

"Our hope of discovering the source of the cases of severe complications with HUS unfortunately has not been fulfilled by these first results."

She also defended the decision to link the outbreak to Spanish cucumbers last week.

"It would have been irresponsible with this number of ill people to keep quiet about a well-grounded suspicion," she said. "Protecting people's lives is more important than economic interests."

Earlier, a senior German scientist warned that the outbreak could worsen.

"We hope the number of cases will go down but we fear it will worsen," said Oliver Grieve, of the University Medical Centre Schleswig-Holstein, where many victims are being treated.

German authorities have warned people to avoid eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

In Sweden, authorities said there were 39 suspected E. coli infections, including 15 with HUS.

On Tuesday, Swedish authorities said a woman in her 50s had died in hospital, after being admitted on Sunday following a trip to Germany.

Cases have also been reported in Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.

Several countries have taken steps to curtail the outbreak, such as banning cucumber imports and removing the vegetables from sale.

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