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Allianz Worldwide Care

EHEC Outbreak in Germany May 2011

Allianz Worldwide Care’s insured members are fully covered for all necessary out-patient as well as hospital treatment required due to contraction of EHEC.

The ongoing outbreak of E.Coli O104:H4 originated in Germany in May 2011 after a number of people were infected following consumption of raw vegetables from a shop in Northern Germany. Further cases have been reported in a number of countries including Switzerland, Poland, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and the UK.

To date there have been 3,604 cases of EHEC/HUS infection, resulting in 40 deaths, and numbers are set to increase while scientists struggle to identify the original source of the infection.

Bacterium Escherichia coli (commonly abbreviated to E. coli and named after Theodor Escherich) is commonly found in the intestine of warm-blooded organisms, including humans. As part of the normal beneficial flora of the gut, it produces vitamin K2 and helps to prevent the establishment of pathogenic bacteria in the intestine. Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some, such as serotype O104:H4 cause serious food poisoning in humans.

EHEC O104:H4 (Entero-hemorrhagic E.coli) is the most infamous member of E.coli. It causes an intense inflammatory response resulting in bloody diarrhea and in some cases hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) leading to acute kidney failure and death. The current outbreak seems to be caused by a new strain containing gene sequences which make it resistant to antibiotics, so treatment is currently limited to supportive care such as fluid replacement, cardiovascular support, and in severe cases, dialysis and ICU care.

How can you protect yourself and your family against EHEC?
  • Wash raw vegetables and fruit thoroughly with hot water before consumption, rubbing and/or peeling them if possible. Due to the severity of the recent outbreak, the Robert Koch Institute in Germany currently recommends that people do not eat raw tomatoes, cucumbers or salad leaves.
  • As the pathogens and toxins are sensitive to heat, cooking, roasting and barbecuing are the best prevention. There is no indication of any transmission through raw meat or raw milk yet, however as a precaution, the Robert Koch Institute recommends that people boil raw milk. Pasteurized or UHT milk may be consumed as normal.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, using plenty of soap, and dry them with disposable paper towels, especially after contact with food.
  • Store and prepare raw food separately from other edibles.
  • Wash surfaces that have been in contact with raw produce with plenty of hot water and dishwashing liquid.
  • Machine wash kitchen cloths (using the hot water cycle) after preparation of raw meat and vegetables. Where possible, use disposable kitchen towels.
If you start to have bloody diarrhea, seek medical advice immediately for observation and diagnostic clarification!  If during or after diarrhea you experience symptoms such as severe fatigue, doughy swellings of the legs (edema) or dysfunctions such as muscle twitching and/or cramps, you should also seek medical advice immediately.

Dr Ulrike Sucher
Medical Director
Allianz Worldwide Care