Germany signals hope in battle against killer bacteria

Germany signals hope in battle against killer bacteria

Germany's new health minister Daniel Bahr admitted failures by the authorities and said there have been "too much speculations" which caused confusion among the public.
The government has been criticised for its handling of the crisis by an increasingly nervous public and by its partners in the European Union.

So far, the outbreak of the infection has claimed 25 lives and infected 1,959 people, 700 of them with the lethal haemolytic uramic syndrome (HUS), according to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's disease control and prevention centre.

The minister said there are reasons for optimism that the worst may be over because for the first time since the outbreak, the number of new infections are not increasing as rapidly as in the past.

"I can't yet cancel the warnings, but we now have reasons to hope as the number of new infections is continuously dropping," he said some five weeks into the outbreak.

However, he expressed fears that there will be many new infections and more casualties.
"There will likely still be new cases, and we must unfortunately still reckon with new deaths, but the number of new infections is clearly dropping, and the worst of the illness is behind us," he added.

In a television interview ahead of today's meeting, he stressed the need for improving the communication between the federal and state authorities and various organisations involved to "avoid confusing the public".

Bahr defended German health authorities who warned against fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and bean sprouts as potential sources of the E coli infection and said those warnings are valid even today.

Experts' advice to avoid eating them raw, improved hygiene and washing hands frequently are the best protection against the killer bacteria, he said.

federal and state health ministers admitted failures in their crisis management and lack of proper coordination between federal and state authorities in dealing with Germany's worst E coli outbreak in more than 60 years.

The ministers said in a statement after the meeting that they agreed to "thoroughly evaluate" the cooperation between the EU and federal and state governments as well as between health and food monitoring authorities in the context of the E coli outbreak.

The federal and state governments will pay compensations for the extra costs for hospitals in treating a growing number of E coli patients, especially in northern Germany.

The meeting was attended also by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, who yesterday criticised Germany for issuing "premature and inaccurate conclusions" about the E coli infection and asked the German authorities to make sure that their warnings about the origin of the infection are "well substantiated and scientifically based."

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Dalli called upon the national authorities not to issue hasty warnings about the source of infection that is not proven by bacteriological analysis.

The meeting comes a day after Germany was lambasted by its EU partners at a meeting of their agriculture ministers in Luxembourg for its handling of the E coli outbreak and for issuing  warnings about possible sources of infection without any scientific evidence.

Spain's agriculture minister Rosa Aguilas told journalists in Luxembourg that  unsubstantiated warnings by Hamburg’s health authorities about ten days ago identifying Spanish cucumbers as a potential source of infection had ruined the existence of several farmers and damaged the reputation of the country's agricultural sector.

Following the warning, Hamburg had imposed an import ban on Spanish cucumbers, but laboratory tests later showed that even though some cucumbers carried the E coli bacteria, they were not the highly virulent strain, which causes the HUS.

Several European nations followed suit and banned imports of Spanish cucumbers while Russia clamped down a ban on all imports of fresh vegetables from the entire EU.

Aguilas claimed that Spain's fruit and vegetable exporters are losing more than 200 million euros per week as a result of the import ban and drop in sales for its products in the EU and in other major markets.

Hamburg's health authorities "should have taken into consideration the consequences of their hasty action for Germany's EU partners before taking such steps", Aguilas said.
It was highly embarrassing for Germany's health authorities that a second warning about bean sprouts from an organic farm as a potential carrier of the killer bacteria also could not be substantiated.

Laboratory tests of 40 samples taken from the farm in Lower Saxony so far were negative.

However, the state health ministry officials in Hannover said 500 new samples were taken from the farm for investigation after 18 new E coli infections in the Baltic Sea port of Cuxhaven were traced to bean sprouts from the farm.

Meanwhile, the health ministry in the state of Saxony Anhalt said specialists are examining a cucumber tainted with the lethal bacteria, which was found in a waste bin belonging to an E coli-infected family in the state capital Magdeburg.

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