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Killer cucumbers: timeline

BERLIN, June 1, 2011 (AFP) - Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which has sparked a food-health scare in Germany, has already killed 17 people and has affected more than 1,000 people since the first cases were reported on May 24.

Here is a timeline of how the food crisis developed:

- May 24: German authorities report three suspected deaths from a strain of the E. coli bacterium and warn more are likely because of a "scarily high" number of new infections.

They say more than 80 cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) have been reported in the past two weeks, a life-threatening disease caused by infection with the enterohaemorrhagic E. coli strain. The northern city of Hamburg is particularly affected.

- 25: Germany warns consumers to be especially careful when eating tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers which are believed to be responsible for the outbreak of food poisoning.

- 26: The German health authorities identify three cucumbers from Spain as the cause of the disease, along with a fourth whose origin is unknown.

Spain probes the activities of two cucumber distributors suspected of exporting the tainted products in the southern provinces of Almeria and Malaga.

The European Commission urges people who recently visited Germany to watch for symptoms such as bloody diarrhoea.

Other countries which have seen cases of the food poisoning are Sweden, Denmark, Britain and the Netherlands.

- 27: Spain's agriculture minister, Rosa Aguilar, says there is "no proof" it is to blame.

- 28: Germany investigates eight more suspicious deaths in the north of the country.

- 29: Austria says it has taken Spanish cucumbers off the shelves of some 30 stores.

- 30: Four more deaths in Germany, bringing the toll to 14.

Russia bans the import of all vegetables from Germany and Spain.

- 31: A fifteenth death in Germany, and the death in Sweden of a woman contaminated during a stay in Germany bring the toll to 16.

A man who recently returned from Germany is admitted to hospital in Spain with a possible E.coli infection.

Germany voices doubt over whether Spanish cucumbers were responsible for the spread of the killer bacteria.

Spain and the Netherlands demand EU compensation after their vegetable sales collapse. Brussels promises to study the requests.

- June 1: Europe's top health official John Dalli says the bloc is confronted with "a serious crisis" and that further testing is needed to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.

An 84-year-old German woman becomes the 17th victim of the disease.

Confirmed cases of HUS rise to 470.


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