Chicory ice cream, Bavarian steam beer, and wine of the latest vintage of organic Riesling or pinot noir. During the annual International Green Week in Berlin, Germany’s largest trade exhibition for food and agricultural goods, producers and retailers gather to showcase their latest culinary creations for German and European customers.
Over the past few years, the meeting has been overshadowed by food safety issues that have included eggs tainted by dioxin-contaminated animal feed. Although industry figures indicate that the latest crisis, which involved a rare and deadly strain of E. coli, has resulted in sales losses comparable to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, only a handful of exhibitors and farmers are willing to talk about the disaster openly. Nearly a year after the devastating outbreak, which killed more than 40 and sickened more than 4,000 people in Germany and other parts of Europe, it is business as usual.
A few hundred miles northeast at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, the deadly strain is still a grim reality. At one of the epicenters of the crisis that kept doctors and German health authorities on their toes last summer, almost 120 patients who suffered from symptoms of the hemolytic-uremic syndrome caused by the infection are still receiving assisted outpatient treatment.
At the height of the outbreak in June, the center treated almost one out of 10 HUS patients in Germany. Data gathered by doctors is expected to reveal clues about the long-term effects of the disease and help develop new therapies to handle crises more effectively. The study has received 1.23 million euros ($1.62 million) in funding from the German Ministry of Health for the next two years and is supported by the Robert Koch Institute, whose EHEC consulting lab experts deciphered the O104:H4 strain. The research will also include data from clinics in other parts of northern Germany, such as the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein in nearby Lübeck, where 117 HUS patients are still under medical observation.