E.coli cucumber scare: Cases 'likely to increase'

A deadly E.coli outbreak linked to cucumbers is expected to worsen in the coming days, a scientist says.

Fourteen people have died in Germany and hundreds are ill from infections linked to contaminated vegetables.

"We hope the number of cases will go down but we fear it will worsen," said Oliver Grieve, of the University Medical Centre Schleswig-Holstein, where many victims are being treated.Professor Mark P Stevens of The Roslin Institute explains what is E. coli O157

In Sweden, authorities said there have been 36 suspected E.coli infections, all linked to travel in northern Germany.

Cases have also been reported in Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.

In many instances, the gastrointestinal infection has led to Haemolytic-uraemic Syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal.

Suspicion has fallen on organic cucumbers from Spain imported by Germany but then re-exported to other European countries, or exported directly by Spain.

Cucumbers from the cities of Almeria and Malaga have been identified as possible sources of contamination, according to an EU spokeswoman.
Wider ban threatened

Several countries have taken steps to curtail the outbreak, such as banning cucumber imports and removing the vegetables from sale.

They include:

* Russia, which has banned the import of tomatoes, cucumbers and salad produced in Germany and Spain, and threatened to ban all European vegetable products
* the Czech Republic and France, which have taken some Spanish-grown cucumbers off shop shelves amid contamination fears
* Austria, which has banned the sale of cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines imported via Germany
* Belgium, which was reported to have banned cucumber imports from Spain
* the Netherlands, which exports billions of cucumbers to Germany, and has halted all shipments
* Denmark, which has expressed "great uncertainty" about suspicions that its cucumbers may be involved and has begun testing for contamination

On Monday, Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar denied Spanish vegetables were to blame, and that Spain would look into claiming damages for losses incurred.

"Our understanding is that the problem does not come from the [country of] origin," Ms Aguilar was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"The image of Spain is being damaged, Spanish producers are being damaged and the Spanish government is not prepared to accept this situation," she said.

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GP Dr Rosemary Leonard says salad vegetables should always be thoroughly washed

She also urged Germany to wrap up its investigation into the cause of the outbreak. The results of the probe are not expected before Tuesday or Wednesday, officials said.

German authorities have warned people to avoid eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

They have also warned the outbreak may get worse as its source may still be active.

The sickness is not directly contagious but it can be transferred between people if an infected person prepares food for others.

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It is thought cucumbers from Spain were at the origin of the outbreak.

But Spanish officials have refused to accept the blame, saying it is still unclear exactly when and where the vegetables were contaminated.

The World Health Organisation has described the outbreak as "very large and very severe" and has urged countries to work together to find the source of contamination.
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Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's national disease institute, has confirmed 329 cases in the country - though some reports have mentioned as many as 1,200 cases.

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