WHO: E. Coli Outbreak May Be From Super-Toxic New Strain - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

WHO: E. Coli Outbreak May Be From Super-Toxic New Strain

LONDON - Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe's worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a "super-toxic" strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.

But while suspicion has fallen on raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as the source of the germs, researchers have been unable to pinpoint the food responsible for the frightening illness, which has killed at least 18 people, sickened more than 1,600 and spread to least 10 European countries.

An alarmingly large number of victims — about 500 — have developed kidney complications that can be deadly.

Chinese and German scientists analyzed the DNA of the E. coli bacteria and determined that the outbreak was caused by "an entirely new, super-toxic" strain that contains several antibiotic-resistant genes, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory BGI. It said the strain appeared to be a combination of two types of E. coli.

"This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. The new strain has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines.

However, Dr. Robert Tauxe, a foodborne-disease expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, questioned whether the strain is truly new, saying it had previously caused a single case in Korea in the 1990s. He said the genetic fingerprints from the two samples may vary a little, but not enough to say that the strain in Europe is new.

"Though it appears to have been around awhile, it hasn't called attention to itself as a major public health problem before," Tauxe said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Russia extended a ban on vegetables from Spain and Germany to the entire European Union to try to stop the outbreak spreading east, a move the EU quickly called disproportionate and Italy's farmers denounced as "absurd." No deaths or infections have been reported in Russia.

In Hamburg, Philipp, a 29-year old photojournalist, was hospitalized on Monday after falling ill. He would not provide his last name because he did not want people to know he had caught the E. coli strain.

After suffering from stomach aches and bloody stools, he developed neurological symptoms and couldn't feel his left arm or leg. Despite three blood plasma transfusions to wash the toxins out of his blood, he hasn't improved. >>>CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

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