Europe’s E. Coli Death Toll Rises to 47

The death toll from the E. coli outbreak that originated in Germany has risen by three to at least 47, the Associated Press reports.

The new tally from Germany’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, came as experts debated whether a recent E. coli outbreak in France is related to the one that emerged last month in Germany.

All of the 47 deaths have been in Germany except for one in Sweden, and that victim had recently visited Germany. Authorities still are trying to determine whether the death of an Arizona man who succumbed to an E. coli illness after visiting Germany was a related case.

The World Health Organization said it so far considers the French outbreak of recent days a separate episode but, at the same, indicated that three of the eight cases reported there carried the same rare strain of E. coli that emerged in Germany. None of those stricken in France has died, although Reuters reports that one person was still in intensive care Monday.

Meanwhile, Dutch and British health officials warned against eating raw sprouts and seeds.

Britain’s Food Standards Agency said sprouted seeds such as alfalfa, mung beans — usually known as beansprouts — and fenugreek should not be eaten unless they have been cooked “until steaming hot throughout.”

An initial investigation of the French E. coli outbreak has indicated a possible link to sprouting seeds from a British company, Thompson & Morgan, which has said it is cooperating with authorities but does not believe its products are the culprit.

In Germany, health authorities have linked the epidemic there to contaminated bean sprouts and shoots from a German organic farm.

As a result, a British health safety expert said it very likely to turn out that the outbreaks are linked.

“We’ve got a new emergent infection that has rarely been described before, and it’s cropped up twice in the same food product,” said Paul Hunter, an E. coli expert at Britain’s University of East Anglia. “That cannot be coincidence.”

“Although this has not been proven, it’s almost certainly going to be the case that seeds in both the French and German outbreaks were probably contaminated at the same place — either where the seeds were grown or very soon afterwards,” said Hunter.

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