The Mercury

Bean sprouts blamed as toll climbs to 22

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HAMBURG: Initial tests have confirmed that bean sprouts grown in northern Germany are the likely cause of an E coli outbreak that has killed at least 22 people and sickened more than 2 200.

Sprouts from an organic farm in the Uelzen area, between the cities of Hamburg and Hannover, could be traced to infected people in five German states, Lower Saxony Agricultur­e Minister Gert Lindemann said yesterday.

“There were more and more indication­s in the last few hours that put the focus on this farm,” Lindemann said.

“Many restaurant­s that suffered from an E coli outbreak had those sprouts delivered,” Lindemann’s spokesman Gert Hahne said.

The farm was shut down yesterday and all its produce – including herbs, fruit, flowers and potatoes – was recalled. At least one of the farm’s employees was infected with the E coli bacteria, the minister said.

Lindemann said 18 sprout mixtures were under suspicion. The sprouts are often used in salads.

Lindemann urged Germans to not eat sprouts until further notice and said definitive test results would be available today. Authoritie­s could not rule out other possible sources for the outbreak and urged Germans to continue avoiding tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.

Sprouts have been implicated in previous E coli outbreaks, particular­ly one in Japan in 1996 where tainted radish sprouts killed 12 people and reportedly sickened more than 12 000 others.

The current crisis is the deadliest E coli outbreak in modern history.

The head of Germany’s national disease control centre raised the death toll to 22 yesterday – 21 in Germany and one in Sweden – and said another 2 153 people in Germany have been sickened. That figure included 627 people who have developed a rare, serious complicati­on of the disease that can cause kidney failure.

Ten other European nations and the US have reported a total of 90 other victims.

Yesterday, German Health Minister Daniel Bahr defended his country’s handling of the outbreak after reports of hospital chaos. – Sapa-AP

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