Seven French children hospitalised by E. coli outbreak

The children, aged from 20 months to eight years old, had eaten defrosted hamburgers made by the French company SEB which said the meat was taken from animals slaughtered in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and processed in France.

The cases come after a major E. coli outbreak that killed 39 people -- all in Germany except for one woman who died in Sweden after visiting Germany -- and sickened 3,300 people in 16 countries.

Doctor Michel Foulard of the University Hospital Centre where the children were being treated in Lille, northern France, said one of them was in critical condition.

Officials said the infection was a rare strain of the E. coli bacteria but was not linked to the similar outbreak in Germany.

"There's meat from Germany, there's meat from Belgium and from Holland" in the burgers, SEB chief executive Guy Lamorlette said. There are several suppliers. We will have to await the test results to say which is contaminated."

Six of the children were hospitalised on Wednesday and a seventh on Thursday, authorities said. They came from different towns in France's Nord region, but there were no connections between them.

The "Steak Country" burgers were bought in French branches of German supermarket Lidl. SEB said it had recalled them and Lidl said it had removed them from its shelves in France.

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