BERLIN - A massive and unprecedented outbreak of bacterial infections linked to contaminated vegetables claimed two more lives in Europe yesterday, driving the death toll to 16. The number of sick rose to more than 1,150 people in at least eight nations.
Nearly 400 people in Germany were battling a severe and potentially fatal version of the infection that attacks the kidneys and kills up to 5 percent of patients.
Investigators across Europe were frantically trying to determine how many vegetables were contaminated with enterohaemorrhagic E.coli - an unusual, toxic strain of the common E. coli bacterium - and where in the long journey from farm to grocery store the contamination occurred.
Yesterday, officials said they had found a slightly different type of EHEC on four cucumbers from Spain than the strain detected in the feces of sick people in Germany. That means those cucumbers did not cause the outbreak but posed a health risk nonetheless, the German officials said.
E. coli is found in large quantities in the digestive systems of humans, cows and other mammals. It has been responsible for a large number of food contamination outbreaks in a wide variety of countries. In most cases, it causes non-lethal stomach ailments.
But enterohaemorrhagic E.coli, or EHEC, causes more severe symptoms, ranging from bloody diarrhea to the rare hemolytic uremic syndrome in which E. coli infection attacks the kidneys, sometimes causing seizures, strokes and comas.