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German two-year-old dies from E. coli

BERLIN (AFP) – A two-year-old boy Tuesday became the first child to die in an outbreak of a virulent strain of E. coli in Germany that authorities say is abating, taking the death toll to at least 37.

The child died in hospital in Hanover overnight after becoming infected with enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), authorities in the northern state of Lower Saxony said.

He had been in intensive care for several days. The rest of his family also fell ill but were recovering, authorities said.

Previously the youngest victim from the weeks-long outbreak, which authorities have blamed on vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany, was a 20-year-old woman.

All but one of the fatalities have been in Germany, with the other being a woman in Sweden who had recently returned from Germany.

Some 3,255 people have also fallen sick in 14 European countries plus the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization. All but five cases were in people from or who had visited Germany.

The Robert Koch Institute, the national disease agency, said Tuesday that since May 1, 3,235 cases had been reported in Germany but that the number of new infections being reported was in decline.

Of these, 782 are seriously ill with haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a kidney ailment arising from EHEC infection, the RKI said.

German Health Minister Daniel Bahr warned Sunday that more deaths were possible, with one expert saying that around 100 patients would need a kidney transplant or require dialysis treatment for the rest of their lives.

Heiner Garg, health minister in the northern state of Schlewsig-Holstein, said Tuesday that many of those with HUS also had neurological complications.

"Currently at Kiel University Hospital, for example, 20 percent of patients are seriously affected. It is impossible to say at this point how many of them will have long-term serious damage," Garg said.

In previous EHEC outbreaks it has primarily been children who have been infected, but this time a majority have been adult women.

Normally there are around 1,000 EHEC infections a year in Germany and some 60 cases of HUS. In 2010 and 2009 there were two deaths.

With German authorities only late last week dropping advice to avoid uncooked tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, particularly in northern Germany, the scare has cost European farmers hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).

Russia, a major market for the bloc's agricultural produce, also outlawed the import of all fresh vegetables from the whole of the 27-nation EU. Moscow agreed at a summit with the EU on Friday to lift the ban.

Particularly badly hit were Spanish producers after Germany initially and erroneously blamed cucumbers grown there for the outbreak.

A major Spanish produce company, Frunet, applied for an injunction against health authorities in the northern city of Hamburg, who had initially issued the warning against Spanish cucumbers, a court spokeswoman said Monday.

The injunction would bar the city's health office from stating, among other things, that pathogens purportedly found on cucumbers sold by Frunet were lethal.

The European Commission has offered 210 million euros ($303 million) to farmers affected across Europe, but they complain that this falls well short of covering their losses.

Karl Schmitz, head of the German federation of fruit and vegetable producers BVEO, told AFP the market would take several more days to return to normal.

The head of the DVB German farmers' association, Gerd Sonnleitner, said that growers across Europe had suffered losses of between 500 million and 600 million euros.

German Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner said Tuesday that she would not leave farmers "out in the cold."

Markus Soeder, agriculture minister in the southern state of Bavaria, said meanwhile that tests on lettuce that had fallen under suspicion there showed it was "highly unlikely" to be tainted with the dangerous strain.

 

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