Scientists Eye EColi

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Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 3:50pm

Unusually lethal strain of E.coli has infected hundreds in Europe.

A rare variation of E.coli has set off a wave of panic throughout Europe.

More than 1,500 people have been sickened in Germany alone, and at least 18 have died.

This latest form of E.coli bacteria is proving to be more toxic than many doctors have ever seen.

Hundreds of those sickened so far have suffered kidney failure and also have neurological problems, like seizures and language difficulties.

No one knows the source of the outbreak, but it's thought to be related to raw vegetables grown in Europe.

Experts say it's unlikely any affected produce would be sold here in the United States.

It's an issue that's even reached the White House.

"We're obviously always concerned about our own food supply which is why we do so much to ensure food that is imported into this country is safe," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control says it's been in contact with all of the state health departments to look for related cases in this country.

"So far we know of two people who have developed kidney failure," says the CDC's Dr. Robert Tauxe.

Those two people remain hospitalized.

The E.coli itself cannot be treated with antibiotics for fear the bacteria would release even more toxins.

Those with kidney problems are put on dialysis.

Blood transfusions are also often necessary.

"It is very intriguing that this illness is striking young adults.. women probably more than men, and is almost completely sparing children," says Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Dr. William Schaffner.

Experts say it's highly unlikely the illness can spread from person to person, and say proper hand washing and thoroughly cooking food is the best defense until authorities can find the source of the bacteria.

Preliminary genetic testing of the rare strain suggests it's a combination of two E.coli bacteria.
 

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