Germany raised the E. coli alarm on May 24 after three deaths thought to be linked to the outbreak and with infections multiplying.
Centred on the city of Hamburg, cases rose rapidly, with the health professionals under pressure to determine the source.
At the time, Professor Reinhard Burger of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control agency, said three types of food were under suspicion: raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.
As fears over raw vegetables soared, so did the death rate, almost exclusively in Germany. Some 23 fatalities have been reported in total. Infections were registered abroad, typically in people who had recently visited northern Germany.
When the authorities there implicated Spanish cucumbers in the outbreak, it sparked a slump in sales and farmers’ fury on the Iberian peninsula.
Once these were ruled out as a source of contamination, efforts multiplied to find out what was making people ill. But scientists seemed baffled.
“We have discovered that it is indeed a new form of this pathogen that has never been written about before,” said bacteriologist Holger Rohde from the University of Hamburg.
Latest suspicions surrounding bean sprouts look like they could be unfounded. And it is still unclear why women seem to be at greater risk. Europe’s E. coli mystery looks a long way from being solved.
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