LILLE, France (Reuters) - One of the children infected with a strain of the E.coli bacteria in northern France has been placed in an induced coma and six others are ill but in a stable condition, doctors said on Friday.
The worst-affected child, aged two and suffering from an acute kidney ailment as well as neurological damage, was transferred to a hospital in Lille, near the border with Belgium, from nearby Amiens on Thursday after his condition deteriorated.
Eight children have been admitted to hospital after eating beef burgers bought frozen from German discount chain Lidl. One was discharged on Wednesday.
The children, aged between 20 months and eight years, fell ill with symptoms such as bloody diarrhea in an E.coli outbreak health officials say is unrelated to an earlier outbreak this month that has killed 39 people, mainly in Germany.
“We have one child who is in a comatose state,” Stephane Leteurtre, head of the pediatric recovery unit at the Lille hospital, told a news conference. “In light of that, this child needs respiratory assistance.”
The condition of the six children being treated in the pediatric unit was “stable,” Leteurtre said. He said two of them were recovering and could be released early next week.
The bacteria believed to be behind the infection, which occurs naturally in cattle intestines, create toxins that attack blood vessels. In rare cases, the toxins can damage blood vessels in the brain, the doctor said.
Adults tend to be more resistant to E.coli than children. The parents of the child in a coma, who also ate burgers from the infected batch, did not have any symptoms. Symptoms tend to become obvious seven to 10 days after an infection.
Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, also at the news conference, said officials were investigating two other suspicious cases, one a young adult and another a 10-year-old. He gave no further details.
Health officials say the bacteria is not related to the strain of E.coli that has killed 39 people and made 3,000 ill, mostly in Germany, and which was blamed on tainted vegetables.
On Thursday, health authorities in the Nord Pas de Calais region where the infections are concentrated said three of the children had been treated with hemodialysis, a method of cleaning the blood in case of kidney failure.
Health authorities have blamed the contagion on beef burgers sold frozen for distribution under the “Steaks Country” label.
Privately owned Lidl, which distributes burgers that are produced by French frozen-beef supplier SEB-CERF, has pulled all “Steaks Country” brand burgers from supermarket shelves.
Guy Lamorlette, SEB-CERF’s chief executive, said on Thursday that frozen burgers suspected of having infected one of the children came from Germany.
SEB-CERF, which has withdrawn some 10 tonnes of frozen beef products, purchases carcasses from many European countries and health officials have not yet ruled on the origin of the infections.
Lamorlette said he expected the results of analyses on the source of infections within days.
Additional reporting and writing by Nick Vinocur