Coming up

Don't miss




Concerns grow as hobby drone use increases

Read more


Buffalo residents share stunning images of the snowstorm

Read more


Senegalese photographer's flashbacks to Africans throughout history

Read more


Hollande photographed with Julie Gayet on Elysée Palace balcony

Read more


Is Beirut still haunted by ghosts of the civil war?

Read more


Band Aid 30 - Hit or Miss? Bob Geldof in Hot Water over Ebola Single

Read more


Deal or No Deal with Iran? Home Stretch to Reach Historic Agreement

Read more


Football scandals: The ugly side of the beautiful game

Read more

#THE 51%

Ending violence against women: The dangers of trial by Twitter

Read more


Analyst warns of widespread E. coli contamination

Video by Shirli SITBON

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2011-06-02

French E-Coli specialist Patricia Mariani explains why it is so hard to pinpoint the exact source of the outbreak of the potentially deadly bacteria which has so far killed 17 people and infected hundreds of others.

Why is it so difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the deadly E.coli outbreak that has so far killed 17 people, 16 of whom live in Germany, and infected hundreds of others?

On Wednesday the European Commission lifted its warning against Spanish cucumbers.

Medical authorities in Hamburg, the epicentre of the outbreak, finally admitted that it wasn’t just cucumbers, and advised against eating and raw vegetables originating from Spain.

So how is an outbreak like this investigated? How serious is the current crisis?

Microbiologist Patricia Mariani, co-director of France’s National E.Coli Resear Centre, answers FRANCE 24’s questions.

Have cucumbers been definitively ruled out as the source of the outbreak? And why is it so difficult to pin down the source of the bacteria?

In principle, yes, cucumbers as a source of the outbreak have been ruled out. But tests are still ongoing and there are many other potential sources where E. coli can proliferate, including vegetables, meat, cheese and even water.

An investigation into an outbreak like this is a long and exhaustive process. For example, patients have to try to remember everything they have eaten in the last fortnight, where they have eaten, and where they did their shopping. It is extremely difficult.

There have been outbreaks of E. coli in the past. What makes this one different?

The outbreak in Germany is particularly alarming. We have never seen so many deaths due to E. coli. What is particularly worrying is the emergence of symptoms normally associated with childhood illnesses.

In Japan in 1996, radishes were infected by contaminated water and some 9,000 people were infected, with nine fatalities. There have been a number of outbreaks in the US, for instance in Washington in 1993 (undercooked hamburgers that had not been properly refrigerated) and in Ontario, Canada in 2000 (tap water was contaminated after heavy rain).

In France there were two outbreaks in 2005. One in the southwest came from undercooked minced beef and one in the Calvados region came from Camembert cheese. There have also been minor outbreaks linked to spinach and apple juice.

Normally only 1% of people who catch E. coli actually die from it. Until now E. coli infection has normally been confined to adults. This time however, symptoms have included bleeding from the digestive tract and in some cases kidney disorders (hemolytic- uremic syndrome, HUS) and severe neurological sequelae (a cerebral condition most often associated with malaria), ailments more commonly associated with children.  Those under fifteen and infants under three, are particularly vulnerable. 

What precautions can one take?

It is essential to peel and wash all vegetables before eating them. It is also important to do basic things such as washing one’s hands before cooking and again before eating. It is advisable to do this anyway, outbreak or not.

Children should not eat unpasteurised cheese or milk and all meat should be thoroughly cooked. Just one bacterium in 25g of meat is enough to contaminate a child.

Date created : 2011-06-02


    UK confirms E.coli cases linked to German outbreak

    Read more


    Russia bans EU veggies to stave off E.coli crisis

    Read more