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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Germany sees a sharp upswing in dangerous intestinal infections

Via DW World, outbreak of potentially deadly E Coli (EHEC) in Germany :

" May brought a mysterious rise in cases of a dangerous ailment caused by EHEC bacteria. Health officials are scrambling to find the source of the often foodborne disease, which has caused at least one death this month.

German health authorities have registered over 400 confirmed or suspected cases of a rare and potentially lethal bacterial disease since mid May. The reports represent a dramatic rise in comparison with the last ten years, in which 800 to 1,200 cases occurred annually.

The condition is caused by a strain of the bacterium E. coli - enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) - which is often foodborne and can lead to severe digestive problems.

"The first symptom is diarrhea, and, in more severe cases, this is typically followed by blood in the stool and massive cramping," said Reinhard Burger in an interview with Deutsche Welle. Burger is President of Germany's Robert Koch Institute, a federal institution tasked with disease control and prevention.

While an average case runs its course in around a week, acute instances of the ailment can lead to kidney failure and even death. Symptoms generally take several days to show up after individuals come in contact with the EHEC bacteria.

Both the rash of reports and the severity of the outbreaks in May has alarmed public health officials.

"This epidemic is really very unusual, because in a normal year, we only see about 10 cases in Hamburg," Rico Schmidt of Hamburg's Department of Health told Deutsche Welle.

In May, Hamburg has already registered over 40 cases of the more severe form of illness brought on by EHEC."

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