German E. Coli Incorporates Plague DNA
The Super-Rare E. Coli Sickening Germany
The E. Coli outbreak that has sickened 1,000 and killed 16 so far in northern Germany involves one of the rarest strains of the disease known to science. Originally reported to be from Spanish cucumbers, German authorities have now admitted their suspicions were wrong and they don’t know where the latest outbreak originated. But what they do know is that the strain of the disease that threatens northern Germany and greater Europe is a particularly rare and nasty one known as E. Coli O104:H21.
The more common strain identified as E. Coli O157 affects some 70,000 people in the United States each year, causing bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and sometimes death. But its treatment and tracking is more familiar to scientists than the more aggressive and rare strain currently affecting Germany. In fact, the O104:H21 strain is so rare that leading German E. coli researcher Helge Karch had in 30 years only heard of one other outbreak of the strain, according to Der Spiegel.
On Tuesday, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Karch had discovered that the O104:H4 bacteria responsible for the current outbreak is a so-called chimera that contains genetic materia from various E. coli bacteria. It also contains DNA sequences from plague bacteria, which makes it particularly pathogenic. There is no risk, however, that it could cause a form of plague, Karch emphasized in remarks to the newspaper.
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