Health officials in Germany claim a woman in the state of Hesse, working in the kitchen of a catering company near Frankfurt, became infected with the bacterium after eating sprouts, and passed it on to 20 people she prepared food for.
“Now we have the proof that in this case a human passed on the germ to the vegetables and then it was passed to other humans,” Daniel Bahr, Germany’s health minister, said, during a visit to the Institute of Hygiene of the University Hospital in Muenster.
Susanne Huggett, an infectious diseases expert at Hamburg’s Asklepios Hospital, explains the human-to-human transmission. “If someone has the disease and prepares food for others — and we know that for this infection just a small amount of bacteria is enough — then that food can get contaminated by the sick person,” she said.
Oddly, the strain was also found in a stream in Frankfurt. Test samples were taken from a nearby sewage treatment plant to determine a possible source of the contamination.
Last week, eight children were admitted to a hospital in northern France after eating beef burgers infected with a strain of E coli bacteria.
One of the hospitalized children, a 2-year-old, required breathing assistance and is in an artificial coma.
Despite reports that the children suffered from bloody diarrhoea, a symptom that also struck victims of the outbreak in Germany which was blamed on bean sprouts, health officials claim the French outbreak is not related to the lethal strain of E coli that has now killed 39 people and sickened 3,000 in northern Germany.
“We are now certain that this is not the same strain as the one discovered in Germany,” a health official from the Nord Pas de Calais region said.
Regional health authorities said boxes of frozen beef patties from the German discount chain Lidl was behind the French infections.
A spokesman for Lidl said that the beef patties under suspect were bought from French supplier SEB-CERF, based in the north-eastern town of Saint-Dizier.
“The products were made in France, but depending on the expiry date and our suppliers’ opportunities, the beef can come from Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands or even other places,” a Lidl spokesman told Reuters.