June 2nd, 2011
12:22 PM ET
A deadly outbreak of E. coli has killed 16 people and sickened more than 1,600 others across 10 European countries. The EU is now grappling with potential diplomatic fallout from the outbreak, as well as economic repercussions, as fingers are pointed on who is to blame and bans on vegetable imports are imposed. Here's a look at how the outbreak has developed.
WHAT IS E. COLI?
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria found living in the intestines of people and animals. It can be transmitted through contaminated water or food - especially raw vegetables and undercooked meat.
It is usually harmless, but can cause brief bouts of diarrhea. More toxic strains can cause severe diarrhea followed by serious organ system damage such as kidney failure.
Scientists at the Beijing Genomic Institute said the outbreak of infection - first reported in Germany - is caused by a new "super-toxic" E. coli strain. However, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Britain's Health Protection Agency said the strain has been seen before, though both agencies added that it is very rare.
The outbreak has killed 15 people in Germany and one in Sweden.
SOURCE OF OUTBREAK
The source of the E. coli outbreak is still unknown, but it has been traced to cucumbers imported to Germany from Spain. It is not clear whether the vegetables were infected at the source or in transit. The first cases were reported in May in Germany, according to the World Health Organization.
Germany has been hardest hit by the outbreak with 15 deaths and more than 1,500 other people sickened by the bacteria.
As it works to contain the outbreak, Germany has banned vegetable imports from Spain while also drastically reducing the number of imports from the Netherlands. Authorities also are advising people to avoid all raw vegetables, particularly cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes.
Spanish officials have strongly denied allegations from Germany that the outbreak originated from cucumbers from the cities of Almeria and Malaga. The European Commission on Wednesday rescinded its health warning against cucumbers from the country. The warning was lifted after Spanish authorities shared with the commission negative test results on the produce in question, according to a statement from the Spanish Health Ministry.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Wednesday that Spain will not rule out "taking action against the authorities (in Germany) who questioned the quality of our products."
The one death in Sweden was a woman who had been traveling in Spain. Another 43 cases of infection have been reported in the country.
Britain's Health Protection Agency on Thursday confirmed that there were four new cases in England suspected to be related to the outbreak, bringing the total number of cases in the country to seven.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday imposed a temporary ban on cucumbers from Spain, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Denmark and the Netherlands
The European Union says a suspect batch of cucumbers imported from either Denmark or the Netherlands and sold in Germany is under investigation. Fourteen cases of E. coli infection have been reported in Denmark, eight in the Netherlands.
The Russian Agriculture Ministry announced a ban Thursday on fresh vegetable imports from the European Union in an effort to prevent the outbreak from affecting the country.
Customs officials have been instructed to prevent the produce from entering the country, while supermarkets and food chains in Russia were told to withdraw European vegetables from their produce bins, officials said.
The ban on fresh vegetables from the European Union comes three days after Russia blocked the import of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and salad greens from Germany and Spain.
Cases of infection have also been reported in Austria, France, Norway and Switzerland. All of the cases, except for two, are people who had been recently visiting or had contact with people recently visiting northern Germany, according to the World Health Organization.
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