A wave of gastroenteritis of unknown origin spread across eastern Germany late last week and into the weekend. Now that the number of new cases is beginning to ebb, German authorities are looking into potential pathogens.
All signs point to norovirus, as sixteen suspected cases in Saxony and Thuringia, two of the five affected states, have tested positive for the virus. Public health officials are looking into other possibilities as well, such a Bacillus cereus, which was identified in two cases also from Thuringia, and other toxin-producing pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens. It is still uncertain whether these cases are part of the same widespread gastroenteritis outbreak or merely isolated cases, though this is unlikely given the sudden and extreme peak in illnesses.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s premier public health authority and the organization monitoring the outbreak, reports that while uncomfortable, the disease poses no major threats. Those affected by the outbreak, mainly students and teachers, are suffering from short stints of vomiting and diarrhea.
Food suppliers countrywide are anxiously awaiting laboratory results that might provide further clues on the source of the outbreak. Under particular scrutiny is Sodexo, a catering organization based out of Hesse, which served 342 schools and kindergartens in the affected regions.
If food caterers are implicated in the outbreak, this will be Germany’s largest and most extensive foodborne outbreak in history, surpassing even last summer’s E. coli epidemic, which caused approximately 4,000 people to fall ill.
Saxony is the worst hit German state, with 2,800 cases. This is followed by Brandenburg with 2,415 cases, Berlin with 2,213 cases, Thuringia with 887 cases, and Saxony-Anhalt with 50 cases.
Update: As of Tuesday, October 2, German news sources report an upsurge in gastroenteristis cases with over 10,300 cases nationwide. Saxony and Brandenburg continue to carry the greatest burden, each with over 3,000 cases. Berlin reports 2732 cases, Thuringia 964 cases, and Saxony-Anhalt 57 cases.
Original German sources: