E. coli outbreak

German hospitals 'reach their limit'

Hospital workers in Germany are "overwhelmed" with cases of the virulent E. coli bacteria that has killed at least 33 people and sickened almost 3,100, the AP/Washington Post reports.

The E. coli outbreak, which has been identified as enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) serotype O104, appears to have originated from vegetable sprouts from a farm in northern Germany. It is one of a handful of strains that can cause severe illness in humans by producing Shiga toxins, which may damage kidneys.

Although the number of new cases has begun to dwindle, hospitals still are scrambling to treat hundreds of patients in intensive care. According to German authorities, about 670 patients continue to suffer from severe complications, including epileptic seizures, paralysis, and kidney failure.

To combat the outbreak, physicians, nurses, and other hospital workers in northern Germany, have launched round-the-clock efforts to manage a spike in patient volumes. According to the medical director of Asklepios Hospital Altona, cleaning staff have been working overtime to clean and disinfect toilets. In addition, health providers from around Germany have been deployed to bolster staff ranks at the clinics swamped with E. coli cases.

At Asklepios, a wing that was under construction only one month ago quickly was reopened and converted into useable space to accommodate the increase in patients needing blood plasma exchanges. The hospital has leased dialysis machines and borrowed equipment from its dialysis treatment center to manage the increased volumes.

Meanwhile, Germany's Red Cross is conducting special blood drives to meet the high demand for blood plasma. A Red Cross spokesperson says hospitals used 12,000 250 milliliter portions of blood plasma in two weeks, up from the average of between 500 and 700 portions. According to the spokesperson, donations have increased by 14.5% since the outbreak began (AP/Post, 6/11).

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