e.coli-bacteria.jpgThe death toll in Europe from the outbreak of a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria has risen to 19 with another person succumbing to the infection in Germany.

The disease is now reported in 12 countries, including Britain and the United States, infecting about 2,000 people, most of them in Germany. All of the deaths also have been in Germany, except for one woman who died in Sweden after a visit to Germany.

But a German doctor said there are signs that the situation is normalising. Reinhard Brunkhorst, President of the German Nephrology Society, told reporters in Hamburg, where the outbreak is centered, that the number of new infections seems to be stabilising.

The World Health Organization cautioned against the random use of antibiotics and other medications. But, the UN health agency is urging people to quickly seek medical help, as the highly contagious bacteria can cause acute kidney failure. The symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and vomiting.

Although Germany’s health agency advised against eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces, particularly in northern Germany, it acknowledged that the source of the bacteria had not yet been identified.

German officials at first mistakenly blamed imported Spanish produce for the deadly outbreak, sparking a sharp rebuke from Spanish officials. Scientists say the bacterium is a previously unknown genetic recombination of two different E. coli strains.