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Laboratory workers take samples from a cucumber for a molecular biological test in Brno, Czech Republic. AP Photo/Petr David Josek

E.coli outbreak 'could last months'

The head of Germany’s public health body has admitted that that “we may never know” the true source of the contamination, which has now claimed 17 lives.

GERMANY’S ECOLI OUTBREAK – which has now killed 17 people – “could last months”, the head of the country’s public health body has said.

Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, also told the BBC that that “we may never know” the true source of the contamination.

Yesterday, the death toll rose to 17 as German authorities confirmed an 84-year-old woman with a complication arising from the infection had died.

Medical authorities appeared no closer to discovering either the source of the infection or the mystery at the heart of the outbreak: why the unusual strain of the E.coli bacteria appears to be causing so many cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which attacks the kidneys and can cause seizures, strokes and comas.

The widespread fatal effects of the infection is unprecedented, according to Dr Robert Tauxe, deputy director of food-borne disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA. Tauxe  said that the cases of acute kidney failure caused by the strain “makes this an extraordinarily large and severe event”, reports the New York Times.

Meanwhile, with 365 new cases confirmed on Wednesday, people in Germany have been warned against eating raw lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, the Guardian reports.

With cases of E.coli infection being confirmed in Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, health experts have also warned people in other European countries to wash their salad vegetables, reports Daily Mail.

No cases have been reported in Ireland.

Early suggestions by Germany that cucumbers from Spain were the source of the infection were proved wrong – but not before thousands of agricultural workers were laid off and thousands of tons of produce was destroyed, at a cost of €200 million a week to the country’s already struggling economy.

Additional reporting by the AP

Read more: Spain considers action against Germany over cucumber scare >

Read more: Spanish cucumbers not responsible for E.coli outbreak >