German health authorities are hoping for a breakthrough in their battle against an E. coli outbreak that has left 22 dead after identifying beansprouts as a possible cause.
Initial tests have shown that beansprouts are a likely source of the worst E. coli outbreak in modern history, Gert Lindemann, the agriculture minister for the north German state of Lower Saxony told journalists late on Sunday.
Beansprouts from a farm – since closed – between Hanover and Hamburg had been traced to infected people across the country. Mr Lindemann warned Germans against eating beansprouts until further notice.
The latest development, if confirmed in test results expected on Monday, could help end some of the uncertainty surrounding the outbreak which has spread to other European countries and stretched German health services to the limit. However, on Sunday it was unclear whether beansprouts alone were to blame.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 Europeans have been left sick, with the E. coli strain at the centre of the outbreak producing symptoms ranging from diarrhoea to the much more serious haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which damages the kidneys.
Earlier on Sunday, Daniel Bahr, Germany’s health minister, had warned that hospitals in the north of the country were struggling to find enough beds and described the situation as “intense”.
The scramble to find the source of the outbreak over the past week has led to diplomatic clashes across Europe.
An unfounded warning that the disease had been carried on Spanish cucumbers prompted demands for compensation from farmers in Spain hit by a collapse in exports.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin, prime minister, said Russia would not lift an embargo on European vegetables until the European Union explained the cause of the outbreak.
The size of the outbreak has appeared at times to overwhelm the medical establishment in Germany.
The country’s consumers have, meanwhile, had to consider the risks associated with eating a range of foods.