HAMBURG - Empty produce markets, full hospitals, ever more infected people, and the certainty that Spanish cucumbers cant be blamed for causing the E. Coli epidemic. Bad news continued to outweigh the good, particularly in the northern part of Germany.
In Hamburg, for example, wheresurprisingly, given the circumstancesthe long rows of stalls at the weekly Isemarkt, a green market, were open for business as usual. However, at vegetable stalls where produce from Vierlanden, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein, and also from the local wholesale market, was on sale, much was amiss: not the usual, pressing throngs of customers; unsold tomatoes and cucumbers; only a few takers for lettuce.
All stall owners agreed that sales of other green produce were down as well, with from 30 to 80 percent less turnover overall. One of the market traders, Paul-Hermann Hell, summed it up by saying that it was as bad as Chernobyl, maybe even worse. He had made the trip in to Hamburg from Neuendorf an der Elbe and, he said, it was definitely not worth the effort. Still he didn't blame the customers, given the health crisis and still unanswered questions.
The number of overall reported cases of E. Coli infection, suspected cases, serious casesand deathscontinued to rise. By Thursday, the death toll from the outbreak was at 17, with thousands reporting symptons. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization confirmed Thursday that the Escherichia coli bacteria is a new strain that has never been seen previously.
We now know that two of the four cucumbers from Spain that were taken from Hamburgs wholesale market last week, tested, and found to carry E. Coli, werent carrying the same strain as the one thats caused the outbreak, and the other two are also expected to not be a match. So the search is back to square one.
The situation at hospitals is not encouraging. The Asklepios clinics in Hamburg are dealing with over 400 E. Coli patients, and about half those suffering from the severe HUS form develop neurological symptoms between three and five days after being infected. The symptoms include epileptic fits, impaired speech or vision, trembling arms or legs, and confusion.
In many instances, the HUS strain leads to acute kidney failure, and patients thus afflicted have to be placed on permanent dialysis. All of this means an increasing need for more medical personnel. "Its a crisis situation, said a staffer at the Hamburg-Eppendorf university clinic where the most seriously HUS-stricken patients are. Vacationing doctors and nurses have been asked to return early from leave, and some doctors no longer with the clinic were coming back to help out.
Meanwhile, in other German states, institutional kitchens are foregoing tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. "Its a shame, but as long as the official warning is not reversed, we cant serve any fresh salads, said Gerrit de Vries, manager of Stuttgarts youth hostels. A spokeswoman for the citys Studentenwerk, a service provider for students, said: "Weve taken salads and fresh vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes off the menu.
As a result of such changes, many German farmers arent bothering to harvest vegetable crops. One of the nations biggest fruit and vegetable producers organizations, the Mecklenburger Ernte, has stopped vegetable harvests for the time being. The organizations managing director, Klaus-Dieter Wilke, noted that although tests have proved that lettuce and vegetables are free of E. Coli bacteria, sales continue to fall. "In many cases, sales are off by well over half, he said.
Over on the west side of Hamburgs Isemarkt, theres a very popular McDonalds branch. And here, ordering a Hamburger TSthe TS stands for extra tomato and lettucecontinues to be the most normal thing in the world.
There have been no changes to any of the usual McDonalds menus, and only a few customers leave bits of the TS theyve removed from their burgers on their tray. The fact that the bacteria, if it were present here, could travel from the tomato and lettuce to the meat or cheese, apparently doesnt hit home.
Lines at the cash registers are long, and customers dont seem aware that theres anything unusual afoot. Its a good thing local fresh produce trader Paul-Hermann Hell isnt here to see this.
Read the original article in German
photo - Lendog 64