herald

Monday 24 September 2018

Holiday alert as E.coli claims more victims

Irish told to avoid raw fruit and veg while visiting Germany

Irish people have been urged to take precautions when travelling to Germany as the number of E.coli cases continued to rise today.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised anyone going to the continental country to avoid raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce while there.

The warning comes as cases of E.coli were confirmed in the UK and America, but the the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Alan Reilly, said there were no confirmed cases in Ireland.

A spokesperson for the agency added that no Irish native here or abroad had been infected with the disease so far, and that there was no issue with any food products in the country.

While Russia's consumer protection agency has banned fresh vegetables produced in the EU, this is unlikely to impact on Ireland's vegetable trade to the Eastern European country.

Potatoes are the only vegetable crop to be exported to Russia, but the last consignment was sent last month.

The E.coli bacterium responsible for a deadly outbreak of disease in Germany, which has left 18 people dead, was revealed yesterday to be a new virulent strain, fuelling alarm across Europe.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said preliminary genetic sequencing suggested that the cause of the outbreak was a mutant form of E. coli that appeared to be particularly aggressive, resulting in widespread severe disease and deaths.

More than 1,500 people have been seriously affected, with at least 470 developing a severe complication-causing kidney failure. Most of them are in Germany, but at least 10 countries have reported people falling ill.

Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the WHO, said that the new strain had "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than existing strains. "This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," she said.

However, she stressed that milder cases were unlikely to seek medical help, so it was impossible to know how big the outbreak was or what proportion were severely affected.

E.coli outbreaks have previously hit children and the elderly hardest and are usually linked with the consumption of meat products, especially beef.

The European outbreak is disproportionately affecting adults, especially women, and has been linked with raw salad vegetables.

Experts said there might be something particular about the strain that makes it more dangerous for adults. The use of manure as a fertiliser could have led to contamination of vegetables.

The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) said consumers should thoroughly wash or peel all salad and fruit before eating. But Dr Nicola Holden of the James Hutton Institute said washing may not be enough. She said the outbreak could be an indication that fruit and vegetables are ingesting the bacteria.

"The bacteria are able to get from animal sources on to crops through different routes, most likely in irrigation water or sometimes from slurry spraying, while some contamination can also occur during processing and packaging," she said.

The source of the outbreak remained a mystery yesterday. German officials have warned people not to eat lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, fanning uncertainty about the safety of the vegetables across Europe.

They had initially singled out Spanish cucumbers as the culprits but these were later cleared, prompting protests from Spain's prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

acampos@herald.ie

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