Majority of Germans unhappy with handling of E.coli outbreak

BERLIN Wed Jun 15, 2011 7:55am EDT

A laboratory worker slices Hungarian cucumbers for testing for bacteria at the Food and Feed Safety Directorate of the Central Agricultural Office in Budapest June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

A laboratory worker slices Hungarian cucumbers for testing for bacteria at the Food and Feed Safety Directorate of the Central Agricultural Office in Budapest June 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A majority of Germans are unhappy with their government's handling of the outbreak of E.coli bacteria in food that has killed 37 people, a poll indicated on Wednesday.

In a survey of 1,003 people by pollsters Forsa, 58 percent of respondents considered Berlin's crisis management in what is the deadliest outbreak of the bacteria in modern history as less than satisfactory or poor.

Only 31 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the government's information policy during the outbreak, according to the poll, published by Stern magazine.

More than 3,200 people have so far been taken ill with the E.coli strain, about a quarter of them developing a complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which affects the blood, kidneys and nervous system.

German health authorities have linked the epidemic to contaminated bean sprouts and shoots from a German organic farm sold to consumers and restaurants for eating in salads.

Germany's main disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, says the number of new infections appears to be on the wane, although the outbreak claimed its first child fatality on Tuesday when a two-year-old died from the bacteria.

Last weekend, Karl Lauterbach, a health expert and member of parliament for the opposition Social Democrats, said some 100 victims had suffered such extensive damage that they would need kidney transplants or lifelong dialysis.

Speaking to newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Lauterbach criticised the sometimes bureaucratic handling of the outbreak, saying parliament would investigate reports that infection alerts took over a week to be registered because they were sent by post.

"We will investigate in the health committee how many infections could have been avoided if an electronic alert system had been used," he said.

Health Minister Daniel Bahr acknowledged in the same paper that the alert system for E.coli should be improved and that German states and the federal government would work together in that direction, saying: "We must discuss the alert process."

The poll, conducted on July 8 and July 9 with a margin of error of three percent, also showed that 58 percent of respondents had avoided certain vegetables during the outbreak.

(Reporting by Brian Rohan)

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