German E.coli outbreak death toll rises to 10

BERLIN Sun May 29, 2011 8:15am EDT

A woman buys cucumbers at a market in El Alquian, Almeria, in southeastern Spain, May 29, 2011. REUTERS/Francisco Bonilla

A woman buys cucumbers at a market in El Alquian, Almeria, in southeastern Spain, May 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Francisco Bonilla

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A virulent form of E.coli bacteria blamed on infected cucumbers from Spain has killed 10 people in Germany and sickened 300, health officials said on Sunday while warning people not to eat suspect vegetables.

European health experts on Saturday said the outbreak of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the blood, kidneys and, in severe cases, the nervous system, was the largest ever in Germany and the biggest of its kind worldwide.

An 86-year-old female patient died on Saturday, taking the toll of victims to 10, the University Hospital Luebeck said on Sunday.

The hospital in northern Germany said it was treating about 70 patients, including the dead woman's husband, for the infection and was expecting to receive 10 new cases a day.

Health officials have advised people in Germany to avoid eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce and some of these products have been removed from shop shelves.

"As long as the experts in Germany and Spain have not been able to name the source of the agent without any doubt, the general warning for vegetables still holds," German Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner said on Sunday in a report in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Austria's food safety agency ordered a recall of organically grown cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines supplied by a Spanish producer which is thought to be the source of the outbreak. It said 33 Austrian stores were affected.

"As it cannot be ruled out that products have already been sold to consumers, under the consumer protection law (we) must strongly urge consumers not to eat them under any circumstances and instead to dispose of them," the AGES agency said in a statement on its website.

The statement, posted late on Saturday after the European Union sounded the alarm bell, listed the Austrian stores affected by the recall. It included Vienna branches of Biomarkt, a popular organic supermarket chain.

German officials said on Thursday they suspected cucumbers imported from Spain were the possible source of the outbreak.

Smaller numbers of cases have been reported in Austria, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain, and all of the cases have been linked with travel to Germany.

(Additional reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and by Sylvia Westall in Vienna; editing by Michael Roddy)

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