The largest outbreak of E. coli in the world has killed 14 people in Germany. Another 300 are seriously ill, and according to scientists who spoke with the Reuters news service, the epidemic is spreading.
The deadly bacteria was originally found on a shipment of fresh cucumbers imported into Germany from Spain, although its source is still unknown.
According to the German scientists, the pathogen has been identified as hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication resulting from a type of E. coli called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
HUS affects the blood, kidneys and in severe cases also the central nervous system (CNS). It can be particularly serious for children, the elderly and those who are fragile.
The current outbreak of HUS/STEC is the largest of its kind ever to occur, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
As of Monday, the University Medical Centre Schleswig-Holstein in north Germany had reported 82 cases of HUS and 115 confirmed cases of E. coli, with the number having doubled within the past few days. The city of Hamburg reported 488 cases of E. coli since the outbreak began two weeks ago, and 94 cases of HUS.
Although most of the deaths have occurred in northern Germany, there are another 36 cases of suspected E. coli that have been identified in Sweden. These, too, have all been linked to travel in northern Germany, as have several others in Britain, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.