by Lisa A. Grimaldi | May 31, 2011

An outbreak of E. coli bacterial infections has caused 16 deaths and approximately 400 severe cases in Northern Europe, according to news reports. The outbreak started in Germany the second week of May; more recently, several cases and one death have been reported in Sweden. Though the source of the bacteria has yet to be determined, the World Health Organization issued a Global Alert and Response last Friday with recommendations from the Robert Koch Institute in Germany to avoid eating tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces, in addition to taking the usual hygiene measures in handling fruit and vegetables. The WHO alert also reports that the E. Coli outbreak is linked to haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure. It further says the outbreak is unusual because it has developed very rapidly, and an unusually high number of cases affect adults (86 percent involve people age 18 or older), particularly women (67 percent), instead of showing up in the usual high-risk groups, which are young children and the elderly.