European E coli outbreak claims further victimsBMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d3610 (Published 07 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3610
All rapid responses
The recent outbreak of Escherichia coli in Germany came to prove that
once again the lessons of the past are ignored and that nationalism still
lurks, ready to rouse.
Enterohaemorragic Escherichia coli are zoonotic pathogens,
potentially fatal, associated with food and waterborne outbreaks around
the world . With what turned out to be a non fully evidence-based
practice, German authorities were hasty to announce that cucumbers
originating from Spain were responsible for this new outbreak , a
theory which came back as false a few days later , causing turbulence
among Spanish scientists. With organic beansprouts coming from Saxony
getting the final blame , this outbreak seems that it will be short but
devastating enough, with at least 23 people dead, hundreds sick and many
vegetable producers - both German and Spanish - ruined .
It is an intricate question to answer what is the actual reason for
this, seemingly brief, blame game. Economic and diplomatic relationships
emerge as first priority, rather than science. Once again, humanity is
unprepared to face maturely an outbreak. We have seen it with the
"terminology ping-pong" on syphilis during the 15th-16th centuries, with
the initial fears on AIDS in late 20th century, and with the contemptuous
"Mexican flu" more recently . Even though existent studies indicated
the need for thorough research towards the quest for the source of the
outbreak (private wells and environment contamination have been registered
as causes of VTEC outbreaks) [7-8], the initial reaction was the attempt
to repulse the national responsibility.
As times go by and new threats keep emerging, humanity has to prove
that an overall mature response is possible, and international dialogue
can come before nationalism. So far, we have repeatedly failed.
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Competing interests: No competing interests