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European E. Coli Strain Never Seen Before In Humans, Scientists Say

The food safety office of the WHO on Thursday announced that the bacterium responsible for the E. coli outbreak in Europe is a strain never seen before in humans and could mean “the infection could prove unusually difficult to bring under control,” Nature News reports (Turner, 6/2).

At least 16 people have died and 1,624 cases have been reported, according to the WHO, making it “the deadliest outbreak of the bacteria on record as a rare strain is causing kidney failure in unprecedented numbers, U.S. health officials said,” Bloomberg reports (Randall/Larkin, 6/3).

“According to WHO, of more than 1,600 people sickened by this E. coli strain, 499 developed a rare and potentially fatal kidney-failure complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome – a complication that can shut down the kidneys and normally occurs in only a small percentage of people sickened during an E. coli outbreak. It is also unusual in that most of those affected are young adults – and mostly women. E. coli infections normally hit young children and the elderly hardest,” the Wall Street Journal writes (Martin/Stevens/Miller, 6/3).

The origins of the outbreak remain unknown, and “[t]en countries have now reported cases, but virtually all of them have been traced to northern Germany, where the outbreak began several weeks ago,” according to the New York Times (Cowell/Kanter, 6/2).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.