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Contaminated cucumber
Photo: madmolecule on Flickr

The rare and toxic E.Coli strain that has infected more than 1,500 people in Germany continues to confound scientists. The World Health Organization announced that the E.Coli bacteria creating chaos across Europe is a previously unknown permutation described as “super toxic.” Eighteen people in Germany have died from the bacteria, including one Swedish tourist. The city of Hamburg in northern Germany appears to be at the center of the outbreak and almost all ten cases reported in other countries originated there. The unique variant can quickly lead to a potentially lethal complication known as hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) that causes kidney failure. It is unusual to contract HUS after being infected with E.Coli; last year it affected 60 Germans compared to 520 confirmed cases last week. Even the victims of this toxic E.Coli strain have been atypical as women and young adults have been harder hit than the elderly or very young.

Complicating matters further is the unknown origin of the breakout.  Officials first pointed to cucumbers from Spain.  However, they have since discovered that the strand of E.Coli that was detected in the cucumbers is not the same strand causing the outbreak. Spain has threatened to sue Germany claiming that Germany’s health warning caused millions of euros in losses for Spanish farmers. Vegetable products in Spain and Germany have been destroyed as a result of the scare and shoppers are unsure of the safety of raw vegetables in the markets. Additionally, Russia extended a ban on all European produce creating even greater concern for European farmers.