The Korea Herald


Germany backtracks on sprouts as E. coli source

By 양승진

Published : June 7, 2011 - 10:44

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   HAMBURG, Germany (AP) _ First they pointed a finger at Spanish cucumbers. Then they cast suspicion on sprouts from Germany. Now German officials appear dumbfounded as to the source of the deadliest E. coli outbreak in modern history, and one U.S. expert has called the investigation a ``disaster.''

   Backtracking for the second time in a week, officials Monday said preliminary tests have found no evidence that vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany were to blame.

   The surprise U-turn came only a day after the same state agency, Lower Saxony's agriculture ministry, held a news conference to announce that the sprouts appeared to be the culprit in the outbreak that has killed 22 people and sickened more than 2,330 others across Europe, most of them in Germany, over the past month.

   Andreas Hensel, head of Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, warned, ``We have to be clear on this: Maybe we won't be able anymore to identify the source.''

   Last week, German officials pointed to tainted cucumbers from Spain as a possible cause, igniting vegetable bans and heated protests from Spanish farmers, who suffered heavy financial losses. Researchers later concluded the Spanish cucumbers were contaminated with a different strain of E. coli.

   ``This investigation has been a disaster,'' Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Associated Press.

   ``This kind of wishy-washy response is incompetent,'' he said, accusing German authorities of casting suspicion on cucumbers and sprouts without firm data.

   The European Union's health Commissioner defended German investigators, saying they were under extreme pressure as the crisis unfolded.

   ``We have to understand that people in certain situations do have a responsibility to inform their citizens as soon as possible of any danger that could exist to them,'' John Dalli said in Brussels.

   In outbreaks, it is not unusual for certain foods to be suspected at first, then ruled out.

   In 2008 in the U.S., raw tomatoes were initially implicated in a nationwide salmonella outbreak. Consumers shunned tomatoes, costing the tomato industry millions. Weeks later, jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico were determined to be the cause.

   In 2006, lab tests mistakenly pointed to green onions in an E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants in the U.S. Investigators considered cheddar cheese and ground beef as the source before settling on lettuce.

   With the culprit in the European crisis still a mystery, authorities stopped short of giving sprouts a clean bill of health. German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner reiterated the warning against eating sprouts, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, which have also come under suspicion.

   The agriculture ministry for Lower-Saxony state said 23 samples from the organic sprouts farm tested negative for the highly aggressive, ``super-toxic'' strain of E. coli that is killing people, with tests on 17 more samples still under way.

   ``A conclusion of the investigations and a clarification of the contamination's origin is not expected in the short term,'' the ministry said.

   However, the negative test results do not mean that previous sprout batches weren't contaminated.

   ``Contaminated food could have been completely processed and sold by now,'' ministry spokeswoman Natascha Manski said.

   In that case, the number of people stricken might keep rising for at least another week as the produce that could be causing the infections may have already been delivered to restaurants and grocery stores.

   More than 630 of the victims are hospitalized with a rare, serious complication that can lead to kidney failure.

   In a major difference from other E. coli outbreaks, women _ who tend to eat more fresh produce _ are by far the most affected this time, said Germany's national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute. The majority of them are between 20 and 50 years old and tend to be highly educated, very fit, and lead healthy lifestyles, Friedrich Hagenmueller of Asklepios Hospital in Hamburg said.

   ``What do they have in common: They are thin, clean, pictures of health,'' he said.

   Ulrike Seinsche is one of the women diagnosed with the serious complication that can lead to kidney failure.

   ``I really got scared when the blood results came and were so bad and the doctors became hectic,'' she said from her hospital bed in Hamburg.She was quickly transferred into intensive care, got cramps and suffered ``real death fear,'' she said. ``Now, I'm actually stable.''

   Osterholm, whose team has investigated a number of foodborne outbreaks in the U.S., said authorities should trace foods back to their suppliers _ which is exactly what led German officials to single out the sprout producer, linking it to several restaurants where more than 50 people fell ill.

   Since 1996, about 30 outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. have been linked to raw or lightly cooked sprouts. Sprouts were also implicated in a 1996 E. coli outbreak in Japan that killed 12 people and reportedly sickened more than 9,000.

   At an EU health ministers meeting Monday in Luxembourg, Germany defended itself against accusations it had acted prematurely in pointing to Spanish cucumbers.

   ``The virus is so aggressive that we had to check every track,'' said Health State Secretary Annette Widmann-Mauz.

   The EU will hold an emergency meeting of farm ministers Tuesday to address the crisis, including a ban imposed by Russia on all EU vegetables.

독일 문제의 새싹서 대장균 발견 안돼

초기 조사서 음성 반응.."조사 계속하겠다"

    (베를린=연합뉴스) 김경석 특파원 = 유럽을 강타한 장출혈성 대장균(EHEC) 질환 의 주범으로 독일 북부에서 재배된 새싹 채소가 지목됐으나 문제의 제품에 대한  검 사에서 음성 반응이 나타나 혼란이 가중되고 있다.

    독일 북부 니더작센 주 농업부는 6일 질병의 진원지로 알려진 한 유기농 업체의 새싹 샘플 40개 중 23개에 대해 검사를 실시했으나 문제의 대장균이 발견되지  않았 다고 발표했다.

    농업부는 "조사를 계속하겠지만 단기간 내에 결론이 나오기는 쉽지 않을  것"이 라고 밝혀 조사가 장기화할 가능성을 시사했다.

    니더작센 주 농업부는 전날 함부르크와 하노버 사이에 있는 윌첸 지역의 한  유 기농 업체가 생산한 새싹이 오염원일 가능성이 매우 크다면서 집단 발병 지역과 이 농장 사이의 연결고리가 발견됐다고 발표했었다.

    그러나 문제의 새싹 채소를 재배한 유기농 업체 `개르트너호프 비넨뷔텔'의  클 라우스 페어벡 사장은이날 지역 일간 노이에 오스타브뤼커 차이퉁과 인터뷰에서  씨 앗과 물만을 이용해 재배했고 전혀 비료를 사용하지 않았다면서 이 농장이 오염의 진원지로 지목된 것을 이해할 수 없다고 밝혔다.

    채식주의자인 페어벡 사장은 더구나 농장에는 가축이나 동물성 비료도 전혀  없 다고 강조했다.

    O-104로 알려진 EHEC는 2개의 대장균이 결합해 생겨난 잡종으로 치명적  부작용 인 용혈성요독증후군(HUS)을 유발하기도 한다.

    우리나라의 질병관리본부에 해당하는 독일 로버트 코흐 연구소(RKI)에 따르면 5 일 현재 유럽에서 독일 21명, 스웨덴 1명 등 모두 22명이 이 질병으로 목숨을  잃었 고 다른 2천153명의 환자가 발생했으며 이중 치명적 부작용인 용혈성요독증후군(HUS) 환자의 수는 627명으로 집계됐다.