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German university develops rapid test for E.coli which has killed at least 15

posted 31 May 2011, 07:07 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 May 2011, 07:15 ]

German university researchers develop a rapid test for the E.Coli illness which has killed 15 people in Germany, while the German Red Cross calls for people to donate blood to avoid shortages.

German researchers say they have developed a breakthrough rapid test which can prove the existence of the germ which has so far led to the deaths of 15 people from a strain of E.coli.

"This is not about a rapid test to determine E.coli generally or to prove the presence of shiga toxin-producing escherchi coli but rather it is about quickly proving the presence of HUSEC041, the strain of the outbreak," Professor Helge Karch, Director of the Institute of Hygiene at the University Clinic in Muenster told journalists on Tuesday (May 31).

The killer bacteria which has, until now, been linked to contaminated cucumbers, claimed a 15th victim in Germany on Tuesday and its first fatality abroad when a Swedish

woman who had been travelling in Germany died, authorities said.

One of the largest E.coli outbreaks of its kind, it has also made more than 1,000 people ill in Germany as well as people from Spain, Sweden, Britain, Denmark, France and the Netherlands who had recently been in Germany.

It has also caused diplomatic tension between Germany and countries such as Spain, France and Russia. The source of the virulent strain of the bacteria is unknown, authorities said. Most of the deaths have been in northern Germany.

The E. coli pathogen has been identified on cucumbers imported from Spain, but it is not clear if they were contaminated there, during transport, or possibly in Germany.

The German government has identified the disease as hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of a type of E. coli known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

Speaking at the news conference in Muenster, Karch said the development in the test should help lead to the discovery of the source of the illness.

"Now we have the molecular tools which will allow us to identify this particular strain in a matter of hours. This is significant for identifying the strain in people but what is now much more important is to use this information to find the source of the infections as quickly as possible to be able to prevent further contagion," he said.

Russia has banned vegetable imports from Germany and Spain and said it may expand the ban to all European Union member states, the head of Russia's Federal Consumer Protection Agency Gennady Onishchenko was quoted by corporate-owned Interfax news agency as saying.

Spanish farmers are losing around 200 million euros ($286 million) per week in lost sales because of it, a farmers association said on Tuesday.

German authorities have warned consumers to avoid eating cucumbers, lettuces and tomato.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a risk assessment that the HUS/STEC outbreak is one the largest in the world of its kind.

In an effort to prepare for further infections the German Red Cross has called on people to donate blood to avoid potential shortages.

HUS affects the blood, kidneys and, in severe cases, the nervous system and can be particularly serious for children and the elderly. In an average year, around 60 cases of HUS are reported in Germany, the government said.