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An outbreak of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) among children caused by infection with sorbitol-fermenting enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H− (SF EHEC O157:H−) occurred in Germany in 2002. This pathogen has caused several outbreaks so far, yet its reservoir and routes of transmission remain unknown. SF EHEC O157:H− is easily missed as most laboratory protocols target the more common sorbitol non-fermenting strains. We performed active case-finding, extensive exploratory interviews and a case-control study. Clinical and environmental samples were screened for SF EHEC O157:H− and the isolates were subtyped by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. We identified 38 case-patients in 11 federal states. Four case-patients died during the acute phase (case-fatality ratio 11%). The case-control study could not identify a single vehicle or source. Further studies are necessary to identify the pathogen's reservoir(s). Stool samples of patients with HUS should be tested with an adequate microbiological set-up to quickly identify SF EHEC O157:H−.
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