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Previously Unknown E. Coli Strain Affects More Than 1,500 In Europe; Source Remains Unknown

The WHO on Thursday said “that an unusually lethal strain of E. coli, which has infected more than 1,500 people in Germany, mystified public health officials and threatened to touch off panic in Europe, was a previously unknown variant of the bacteria, raising new concerns about the extent and severity of the contagion,” the New York Times reports. The outbreak, which seems to have begun in Germany, has killed at least 17 people, the newspaper notes (Cowell/Neuman, 6/2).

“The source of the food-borne outbreak is still unknown, though German officials had earlier suggested that the bacteria was spread on tainted cucumbers shipped from Spain,” TIME’s “Healthland” blog reports. Though tests for the bacteria on Spanish produce have been negative, German officials are continuing to warn against eating raw cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes, the blog notes (Melnick, 6/1). Officials are investigating another batch of cucumbers that originated in either the Netherlands or Denmark, and they noted that vegetables could be contaminated along the long transport routes, according to the Associated Press/Herald Mail (5/31).

With Germany, Belgium and Russia already banning the import of Spanish vegetables, Spanish farmers “fear the damage to their livelihoods is already done, with millions of euros in losses that threaten to destabilize the whole country’s already-ailing economy,” VOA News reports (Frayer, 6/1). European Union Health Commissioner John Dalli “said he was looking at what the European Commission could do about the impact on producers,” according to Reuters (Dunmore/Busemann, 6/1).

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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.