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But enterohaemorrhagic E.coli, or EHEC, causes more severe symptoms, ranging from bloody diarrhea to the rare hemolytic uremic syndrome. In Germany, at least 373 people have come down with the syndrome, or HUS, in which E. coli infection attacks the kidneys, sometimes causing seizures, strokes and comas.
The World Health Organization said that as of Tuesday there had been 400 cases of HUS and 843 cases of EHEC in nine European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. All but two cases are either people in Germany, or people who had recently traveled to northern Germany, the organization said.
It's "extraordinary" to see so many cases of the kidney complication from a foodborne illness, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, a foodborne disease expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "There has not been such an outbreak before that we know of in the history of public health."
He added that the strain of E. coli in the European outbreak has not been seen in the United States, where there have been several high-profile foodborne outbreaks in recent years, but none with such a high death toll.
There's little precedent in Europe, either. In 1996, an E. coli outbreak in the United Kingdom caused 216 cases and 11 deaths.
The World Health Organization said 86 percent of those sickened in the current outbreak were adults, and two-thirds were women. It said it was unusual that more children weren't affected.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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