Two US military in Germany may have e.coli bug

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. military personnel based in Germany are suspected of having a dangerous strain of the E. coli bacteria that has so far killed 19 people in Europe, U.S. health officials said on Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is inspecting shipments of Spanish and German vegetables to the United States but a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official said there was no expectation the outbreak would spread to the United States.

“Two U.S. service members in Germany with the illness are being evaluated as suspect cases,” said Chris Braden, director of the foodborne, waterborne and environmental disease unit at the CDC.

The highly toxic strain has already killed 18 people in Germany and one in Sweden, and sickened more than 1,700 others, in possibly the deadliest such outbreak ever recorded. [ID:nLDE7520EX]

“U.S. produce remains safe, and there is no reason for Americans to alter their (consumption) habits,” said David Elder, the FDA’s Director of Regional Operations.

Some 199 new cases of the rare strain of E. coli bacteria have been reported in the past two days.

The source of the outbreak is unknown, but scientists say the E. coli strain is highly likely to have originated in contaminated vegetables or salad in Germany. Raw vegetables have been known to harbor E. coli when they are grown with fertilizer using cattle manure.

Three U.S. adults have already been hospitalized with what officials believe is the same strain of the bacteria after they traveled to northern Germany in May, the CDC said late on Thursday.

The World Health Organization has said the E. coli strain, known as 0104:H4, was a rare one, seen in humans before, but never in this kind of outbreak.

CDC’s Braden said the case mirrors an outbreak in the Republic of Georgia in 2009 and a case described in a scientific report in South Korea in 2006, as victims had similar severe symptoms.

Most E. coli bacteria are harmless, but this rare strain has the ability to stick to intestinal walls where it pumps out toxins, causing diarrhea and vomiting. In severe cases, it causes hemolytic uremic syndrome, attacking the kidneys and causing coma, seizure and stroke.

Braden said the new 0104:H4 strain was different from previous E. coli outbreaks as it affects adults more than children, and women more than men. Some 71 percent of infected cases have been women, he said.

“We still have a lot to learn about this type of E. coli,” Braden said.

The U.S. is monitoring all shipments of cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes from Spain and Germany as a precaution.

But FDA officials said less than 0.2 percent of all produce shipped to the United States in any given year comes from Spain or Germany. Most raw vegetables in the United States during the summer are grown domestically, or come from Mexico or Canada. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov and Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)