EHEC causes: On the trail of the pathogen

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First insights into the causes of EHEC infections

Health authorities are currently feverishly looking for the causes of the current EHEC infection wave. While raw milk products and raw meat could almost be ruled out as a source of infection, the search is currently focusing on a possible transmission of the dangerous intestinal germs by raw food - vegetable foods that are not heated during preparation.

The fact that food contaminated by faeces from ruminants could be the cause of the EHEC infections was suspected immediately after the first cases became known. Although the Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner (CSU) warns the “ARD” of hasty conclusions and hasty blaming towards the farmers, the idea that the application of liquid manure to the fields means the food with EHEC is obvious - contaminated faeces were contaminated.

EHEC infections from raw food The health authorities currently assume that the EHEC infection can be traced back to a transmission of the pathogens through raw food - but the experts have so far not been able to prove this thesis. Neither was any information given on how the pathogens could have gotten to the food and how they were spread. Since ruminants are considered the main reservoir of Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) and contamination of food with animal feces is the source of infection relatively often, the public is already speculating about manure fertilization as a possible cause. The Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner (CSU), vigorously opposed such assumptions and warned against hasty blame. "We (can't) say at the moment (...) where the source is," explained the CSU politician in an interview with the "ARD". The medical director of the Medilys large laboratory at the Asklepios clinics in Hamburg, Susanne Huggett, said earlier this morning in the ARD morning magazine that it currently looked "as if salad bars, ie prepared salad parts, were playing a role". But Huggett has not yet been able to say anything more precise. Overall, the transmission of the pathogens by raw food is considered extremely likely by the experts, which inevitably raises the question of the causes of the contamination of the raw food.

EHEC infection source presumably in northern Germany Since the EHEC infections have occurred in several federal states, but the focus is in northern Germany, the health authorities suspect that the raw food contaminated with EHEC was spread by a supraregional supplier from northern Germany. So far, however, the authorities have not been able to provide more precise information. However, there is hope that the management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) will make an involuntary contribution to clarifying the cause of the infection. Because as the "Spiegel" reports, all 19 patients so far sick in Frankfurt ate in the PwC canteen. In a message to the PwC employees, the Frankfurt health office wrote that "to prevent illness," the canteen is temporarily closed "and that it is recommended" not to use the water dispenser ". Samples of the processed food and beverages are currently being examined in the laboratory in the hope of finding an indication of the source of the infection. The authorities are also evaluating the delivery notes from the canteen, as contaminated food delivery is suspected to be the cause of the EHEC infections. "We assume that the source of infection is in northern Germany," a spokesman for the health department told the radio station "FFH".

Liquid manure fertilization as a possible cause of EHEC infections Given the lack of clarity regarding the causes of EHEC infections, the experts with suspicions have so far been very reluctant, but improper fertilization with liquid manure is mentioned as a possible source of infection . In Germany, the so-called fertilizer regulation sets strict requirements for the use of liquid manure, but its use is by no means prohibited. And so it is quite conceivable that the dangerous EHEC bacteria reached the fields with the manure and from there to the kitchen with the raw food. Above all, the manure obtained from urine and faeces in cattle breeding is suspected here. However, manure from pig breeding is considered to be harmless with regard to EHEC infections, since pigs are not ruminants and do not normally transmit EHEC bacteria. If the suspicion is confirmed that the EHEC infections were caused by the use of the manure, the damage to the image of agriculture would be considerable. That is why the Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection is already trying to smooth the waves in advance. It remains to be hoped that the search for the causes of the current EHEC wave of infection will sooner or later lead to a result that clearly explains the route of infection - also to remedy the currently noticeable, massive uncertainty among consumers. (fp)

Read on:
Symptoms of an EHEC infection
First deaths from EHEC infections
No antibiotic at EHEC
Mysterious infections caused by EHEC pathogens
Infectious diseases

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