Spanish vegetables suspected of contamination with a potentially deadly bacteria are being recalled from stores in Austria and the Czech Republic to prevent the spread of a deadly outbreak, officials said Sunday.
The death toll from the bacteria rose to at least 10 people, and hundreds across Europe have been sickened.
Czech authorities said 120 organic Spanish cucumbers were being pulled off shelves while their counterparts in neighboring Austria announced that "small amounts" of cucumbers, as well as tomatoes and eggplants, were being removed from 33 stores.
The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety said it was informed by a European Union warning system that two German companies had issued an immediate recall and sales ban of cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplants they had delivered in to stores in the Alpine republic. The agency said that some of the vegetables may have been sold and urged consumers to throw them away.
The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority said cucumbers from a contaminated shipment also went to Hungary and Luxembourg. There were no immediate reports of illness there.
The cucumbers transited Germany, where health officials said Sunday one more person had succumbed to the bacteria, raising the death toll from nine to 10. The number of people infected also went up over the weekend, with at least 467 cases of intestinal infection in the northern city of Hamburg alone, including 91 cases of the more severe hemolytic uremic syndrome, Hamburg health official Cornelia Pruefer-Storcks told German news agency DAPD on Sunday. HUS is a rare complication arising from infection associated with the E. coli bacterium.
An exact number of infections in Germany was not available, but local papers estimated that around 1,000 people had fallen ill with the intestinal infection across the country by Sunday.
German Health Minister Ilse Aigner reiterated her warning not to eat any cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and other leaf salads.
"As long as experts in Germany and Spain have not succeeded in finding the cause of the infection without a doubt, these general warnings for vegetables stay in place," Aigner told German weekly Bild am Sonntag.
Austrian Health Ministry spokesman Fabian Fusseis said two German tourists have tested positive for enterohaemorrhagic E.coli, also known as EHEC, without HUS complications. But it is still unclear if the cases are linked to the outbreak in their homeland, he added.
Swedish health officials say 36 cases of the bacterial infection have been reported in Sweden and that 13 had developed HUS. In Denmark, 11 people have been infected, including five with HUS.
Britain's Health Protection Agency, meanwhile, said England so far has seen three cases of E. coli in German nationals _ two with HUS.
The Food Standards Agency said there is no evidence any of the effected organic cucumbers have been distributed to the U.K. but that it is monitoring the situation closely.
By Friday, Swiss authorities had recorded one case of enterohaemorrhagic E.coli: a woman who returned from a trip to northern Germany where she had eaten from a salad buffet.
A spokesman for the European Union said Sunday that two greenhouses in Spain that were identified as the source of the contaminated cucumbers had ceased activities. The water and soil there are being analyzed to see whether they were the problem or the contamination occurred elsewhere, said Frederic Vincent, the spokesman.
The results of the tests are expected Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
The EU notified member states Friday of the source of the outbreak, which has affected primarily the Hamburg area of Germany and, to a lesser extent, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, according to Vincent. He added that the EU had also warned the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg about contaminated vegetables that had been sent from Spain through Germany, though he noted it was unclear if the warning was limited to cucumbers.
It is up to the individual member states to decide what action to take, Vincent said. The EU has warned people who have recently visited Germany to consult doctors if they experience bloody diarrhea.
The Spanish government has said two companies from southern Andalucia that produce cucumbers were being investigated in connection with the deadly bacterial outbreak.
Spain's health minister, Leire Pajin, said Friday that the regional government of Andalucia, in coordination with national authorities and counterparts in Germany and the EU, had put in place measures to reassure consumers that it was safe to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
"We have to make it very clear that there is not a single person in Spain that at this moment has been affected by this bacteria," said Pajin.
Oleksyn reported from Vienna. Don Melvin in Brussels, Cassandra Vinograd in London, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Harold Heckle in Madrid, Malin Rising in Stockholm and Frank Jordans in Geneva also contributed.