10:36am

Tue May 31, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Europe Grapples With Outbreak Of Deadly Foodborne Illness

The United States isn't the only country to be hit with E. coli in its food supply.

Germany is in the midst of a foodborne disease outbreak that has reportedly claimed 16 lives. The problem is a variety of E. coli that produces a toxin that can lead to severe kidney damage.

Blame for the outbreak has been pinned on produce from Spain, with Germany informing the European Union that organic cucumbers could be the source.

Spain had denied that's the case. "The image of Spain is being damaged, Spanish producers are being damaged and the Spanish government is not prepared to accept this situation," Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar said Monday, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

An analysis by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control of the cases so far — all caused by a strain of E. coli called STEC for short — it's "one of the largest described outbreaks" in the world and is already "the largest ever reported in Germany."

Hamburg is "pretty much at the epicenter," Jorg Debatin, medical director of the Hamburg Medical Center, told CNN. More than 600 infected patients are being treated by the hospital.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.