German officials declare E. coli O104:H4 a sproutbreak

Via H5N1, German officials are calling it for sprouts:

Germany on Friday blamed sprouts for a bacteria outbreak that has left at least 30 dead and some 3,000 ill, and cost farmers across Europe hundreds of millions in lost sales.

"It's the sprouts," Reinhard Burger, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's national disease centre, told a news conference on the outbreak of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) in northern Germany.

"People who ate sprouts were found to be nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhoea or other signs of EHEC infection than those who did not," he said, citing a study of more than 100 people who fell ill after dining in restaurants.

As a result, the government lifted a warning against eating raw tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.

There still haven't been any positive tests, but as I mentioned yesterday, the epi seems to strongly point to sprouts. Confirmation via bacterial isolation and typing would be ideal, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen at this late date. Larger studies also, I'm hoping, will be done--the numbers above state that they came from ~100 people, out of approximately 3,000 sickened so far, and we still don't know how the implicated sprouts were contaminated. Did it originate in the seeds? (If so, still from where?) Was it human-to-sprout contamination from a sick worker on the farm? (If so, where again did the worker pick it up?) Still so many unanswered questions, but at least this should let some of the other farmers' lives get back on track.

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Just wondering if you know, but the statement that "People who ate sprouts were found to be nine times more likely to have bloody diarrhoea..." would imply a Risk Ratio from cohort study. That seems unlikely to me, given my experience investigating foodborne illnesses. Is this not more likely to have been a case-control study with a resulting Odds Ratio? In which case wouldn't it be more correct to say that those who were ill were more likely to have eaten the sprouts?


By man of misery (not verified) on 11 Jun 2011 #permalink

I haven't seen any of the data; that was from the article linked. But yes, case-control w/odds ratio would be more probable IMO. I haven't had a chance to look around today but there was some mention of tour groups where they looked at their receipts etc., so I don't know if they were able to assemble some type of cohort instead and start from exposures.