Australia on alert for E. coli outbreak.

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The Federal Department of Health says it has asked general practitioners to be on the alert for cases of infections related to the E. coli outbreak in Europe.

While Germany is at the centre of the outbreak, people have become ill in 10 other European countries as well as the United States, probably from eating lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or other raw salad vegetables in Germany.

The outbreak has claimed the lives of at least 19 people, with over 1,700 more people infected.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health says there are no reported cases in Australia related to the outbreak, but the situation is being monitored closely.

Anyone returning from Germany who is unwell with diarrhoea is urged to see their GP as soon as possible.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has confirmed Australia does not allow the importation of fresh cucumbers or lettuce from Europe.

The World Health Organisation says the strain is a rare one that has been seen in humans before, but never in this kind of outbreak.

Many of those infected have developed the disease haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a potentially deadly complication that can affect the kidneys.

E. coli bacteria are usually harmless but the strain making people sick has the ability to stick to intestinal walls where it pumps out toxins, sometimes causing severe bloody diarrhoea and kidney problems.

Many patients have gone into hospital, with several needing intensive care, including dialysis, due to kidney complications.

Meanwhile, the proprietor of a German restaurant where the killer food bug may have struck says he is devastated to hear many of his guests were infected by the rare virulent bacteria.

"It was like a blow to the head when I heard the news," Joachim Berger said in an interview in the kitchen of his restaurant in Luebeck, 60 kilometres north-east of the outbreak's epicentre in the northern port city of Hamburg.

"We had everyone here tested and everything was disinfected. I paid for the tests myself because safety is important for our guests and employees."

But the Luebecker Nachrichten newspaper reported scientists had identified the local restaurant as a possible spot where the bug was passed on after one person died and 17 others fell sick, including a group of tax officials, Danish tourists and a child from southern Germany.
 
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