According to German health officials, a virulent strain of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) bacteria has taken the lives of three women and sickened more than 400 individuals. Authorities from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a German public health institution responsible for disease control and prevention, confirmed that more than 80 individuals have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening complication of E. coli infection that can result in acute kidney failure, and remain in critical condition.
Approximately 1,000 EHEC cases were reported in Germany throughout the course of 2010. Presently, RKI officials are baffled by the number of EHEC illnesses that have occurred in such a short span of time. In addition, RKI explained that EHEC typically infects infants and young children; however, unusually, the current outbreak has affected adults, the majority of whom are women.
The investigation has revealed that most of the illnesses occurred in northern Germany; however, reports are now indicating that there may also be cases in parts of southern and eastern Germany. Specifically, health officials have identified the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, where the number of suspected cases rose between Monday and Tuesday from 90 to 200, as well as Lower Saxony, Hamburg, Hesse and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, as major sites of infection.
Despite their attempts to determine the source of the outbreak, German authorities have yet to find it. They suspect, though, that those sickened may have the contracted the EHEC infection from fruit or vegetables from fields fertilized with manure.