Illnesses caused by one of the strains of the E. coli bacteria are typically caused by consumption of contaminated foods or drinks. Despite placing the blame on "killer cucumbers" and then on organic bean sprouts, German authorities are little closer to finding the source of the continuing outbreak.
As of Sunday afternoon, Germany had reported 2,325 cases of illness or kidney failure due to the current E. coli illness outbreak. Twelve other countries reported an additional 104 cases. 22 deaths are blamed on the outbreak. All but one of the patients had traveled to or live in northern Germany.
The United States has one confirmed and three suspect cases of E. coli related illness due to this outbreak.
These illnesses are not normally found in adults. The average in the period 2006-2010 in Europe was less than 10% of the E. coli cases involved adults with no difference in cases by sex. In this outbreak, 88 percent are older than age 20 and 71 percent are female. Significant numbers of deaths have been in the very elderly.
Determining the source of the infections involves taking extensive histories from affected patients. Investigators will find a common food or drink, or a place that the patients all had in common. Once the source is found, the outbreak can be halted through closings and recalls of products.
In this E. coli outbreak, which began about May 1, no source has been found. German authorities are focused on salad bar vegetables, primarily tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. They are presently recommending against the consumption of those raw vegetables.
Beginning with what is known, the focus on salad bar vegetables is prudent. The outbreak is in northern Germany. The source is something that thousands of people would have consumed. The primary consumer of the source is an adult female. Salad bar vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers make sense as a potential source.
The field of candidate sources still needs to be narrowed since the illnesses and deaths continue. The farm or produce wholesaler or retailer responsible must be found and shut down, and all its products recalled. The German public health authorities have to bear some criticism for the extraordinarily long time it is taking to locate the source, and for the false claims made about Spanish cucumbers and bean sprouts.
Upstate New York resident Charles Simmins brings 30 years of accounting and finance experience and a keen interest in military affairs to the news of the day. His years of experience working with the personnel of the Secretary of Defense's New Media activity on Bloggers' Roundtables provide insights often overlooked by other reporters.