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Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak in Germany—clarification of the origin of the epidemic

Vladan Radosavljevic, Ernst-Jürgen Finke, Goran Belojevic
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cku048 125-129 First published online: 15 April 2014


Background: In 2011, Germany was hit by one of its largest outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis and haemolytic uraemic syndrome caused by a new emerging enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli O104:H4 strain. The German Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome/Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (GHUSEC) outbreak had unusual microbiological, infectiological and epidemiological features and its origin is still only partially solved. The aim of this article is to contribute to the clarification of the origin of the epidemic. Methods: To retrospectively assess whether the GHUSEC outbreak was natural, accidental or a deliberate one, we analysed it according to three published scoring and differentiation models. Data for application of these models were obtained by literature review in the database Medline for the period 2011–13. Results: The analysis of the unusual GHUSEC outbreak shows that the present official assumption of its natural origin is questionable and pointed out to a probability that the pathogen could have also been introduced accidentally or intentionally in the food chain. Conclusion: The possibility of an accidental or deliberate epidemic should not be discarded. Further epidemiological, microbiological and forensic analyses are needed to clarify the GHUSEC outbreak.

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