Officials continue to search for the cause of the E. coli outbreak that began in early May. As of June 9, it has killed at least 27 people and sickened more than 2,900.
The majority of the people killed were from Germany, and one victim died after having visited Germany. At least three Americans have been infected with the rare strain of E. coli after traveling to Europe, which has caused many to cancel or delay their travel plans. After a recent article in The New York Times revealed that the number of rare E. coli cases rose in the U.S. last year – with strains related to the deadly outbreak abroad – many health officials are debating whether meat and produce testing should be more thorough.
E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. The bacteria are spread through feces, which is why many E. coli outbreaks are caused by tainted fruit and vegetable produce. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but occasionally they can cause serious cases of food poisoning. This particular strain can be deadly, because it wreaks havoc with the nervous system and can cause kidney failure.
Authorities have tried to determine the source of the outbreak but have been largely unsuccessful thus far. A link may have been found between a German bean sprout farm and five restaurants where diners were infected with the deadly strain of E. coli. Initial tests showed no sign of E. coli, but it's possible the tainted sprouts are no longer in the supply chain. At least one worker at the farm has been infected with the strain, and the farm also supplied sprouts to a German cafeteria that sickened 18 people.
In the Netherlands, authorities recalled red beet sprouts after samples were contaminated with E. coli. However, that strain is reported to be less dangerous than the strain that has caused the deadly outbreak.
Until the contaminated source is confirmed, Europeans are being advised to stay away from cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and vegetable sprouts.