Bean sprouts caused E. coli outbreak, health officials confirm
(CBS/AP) It was the bean sprouts after all.
After weeks of dithering on the cause of the E. coli outbreak that has killed 31 people and sickened more than 3,000 across Europe, German health officials announced Friday that sprouts from an organic farm in Germany are to blame.
No tests of the sprouts from the farm in Lower Saxony came back positive, but officials linked hospitalized patients to restaurants and then farm fields.
"It was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts," Reinhard Burger, president of Germany's national disease control center, said at a press conference. "It is the sprouts."
The sprouts were initially blamed for the outbreak on Sunday, but authorities backpedaled the next day after lab tests came in negative and there was not yet enough epidemiological evidence.
Burger said all the tainted sprouts may have either been consumed or thrown away by now, but warned that the crisis is not yet over and people should still not eat sprouts. But officials gave the green light to eating lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers - all suspects at one point.
Norman Noah, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has investigated numerous food-borne outbreaks, said the culprits are often identified only by epidemiological evidence, because the contaminated food has long since disappeared by the time scientists begin taking samples.
"Having gone this far down the line, the chances of finding contaminated food is quite small," Noah said. "If (laboratory) evidence is missing, then epidemiological evidence can be quite compelling."
Germany has been the epicenter of the world's deadliest known E. coli outbreak, with 2,988 people sickened, 759 of whom are suffering from a serious complication that can cause kidney failure. The World Health Organization says 97 others have fallen sick in 12 other European countries, as well as three in the U.S.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on E. coli.
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