June 13, 2011

GERMANY: Expert Warns 100 Patients Will Need New Kidneys or Dialysis

HAMBURG / Der Spiegel International / June 13, 2011

Long-Term Impact of E. Coli Outbreak

A nurse in a hospital in Lübeck treating an EHEC patient last week. DPA

Germany's E. coli crisis is abating following the confirmation that sprouts from an organic farm were the source, but many of the patients will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives. A health expert has warned that 100 of them will need new kidneys or permanent dialysis.

A prominent health expert for Germany's opposition center-left Social Democratic Party has said that some 100 patients afflicted by the deadly E. coli strain that has killed at least 35 people will need kidney transplants or lifelong dialysis treatment.

Government scientists ended weeks of uncertainty on Friday when they announced they had found the bacterium on a packet of sprouts delivered by a farm in Bienenbüttel in the state of Lower Saxony.

The announcement provided welcome reassurance to an anxious public and to farmers around Europe whose sales of fruit and vegetables had plummeted due to uncertainty about the source of the contamination. The warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, which had earlier been identified as possible sources, has now been lifted.

But the news will have come as scant relief to many of the more than 3,000 people who fell ill, and especially the quarter of them who developed a severe complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) affecting the blood, kidneys and nervous system.

Severe Kidney Damage

Karl Lauterbach, the SPD's health expert, told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag on Sunday: "Around 100 patients have such severe kidney damage that they will need a donor kidney or dialysis all their lives."

He also warned that the E. coli strain that caused the epidemic, enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), was on the rise worldwide and that there would be further such outbreaks in the future in Germany as well.

He said the parliament's health affairs committee would launch an enquiry into the handling of the crisis in the wake of criticism in Germany and abroad that German authorities had been too slow in their response.

In future, said Lauterbach, clinics should be required to report every EHEC case by email directly to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's national disease and control and prevention agency, rather than via local and regional health authorities, a process which takes at least a week.

German Health Minister Daniel Bahr pledged last week to review Germany's disease management system following criticism that it was too bureaucratic and fragmented among regional and central ministries and agencies.

The European Union late last week raised its compensation offer for farmers hit by plummeting sales to €210 million ($300 million) from €150 million.

cro -- with wire reports