German clinics have appealed for blood donations as the number of people infected with a deadly strain of E. coli has reached 1,836 globally.
Nearly 200 new cases have been reported in two days in Germany, which has seen the most infections. The bug has killed 17 people in Germany and one in Sweden.
German scientists say the new E. coli strain’s genes have been decoded. It is a new hybrid form toxic to humans.
Germans are still being advised not to eat raw vegetables.
Most cases are in northern Germany, including Hamburg. In severe cases, doctors have to perform blood transfusions.
Lutz Schmidt, medical chief of the Hamburg blood donation service, said: “We need blood, plasma too. The stocks need to be replenished.”
He told the newspaper Die Welt that in Hamburg ,many donors had responded to the Eppendorf University Clinic’s appeal for blood.
E. coli is a bacterium that usually inhabits the guts of cattle and sheep and is mostly harmless.
Some strains, such as Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), can cause diarrhoea, severe stomach cramps and fever, though most sufferers recover within days.
However, a small number of patients develop the potentially deadly haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), which attacks the kidneys and nervous system.
The bacterium sticks to the intestine walls, pumping out toxins.
In all, 1,213 EHEC cases and 520 HUS cases have now been reported in Germany, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
It adds that 553 cases of HUS and 1,283 cases of EHEC have been detected globally.
In Britain, health officials have announced four more EHEC cases, bringing the total number to 11. All patients have recently travelled to Germany.
Russia – the EU’s largest export market for vegetables – has rejected pleas from Brussels to drop its ban on the import of fresh vegetables.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday the ban may go against “the spirit of the WTO… but cucumbers that people die after eating really stink”.
“We cannot poison our people for the sake of some spirit,” he added.
Anger in Spain
The new E. coli strain is believed to have spread via contaminated raw cucumbers or tomatoes.
European health authorities are urgently trying to pinpoint the source of this epidemic.
Cases of HUS have also been reported in Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain. Seven people in the UK have the infection, though all are thought to have contracted it in Germany.
Two people in the US, who travelled recently to Germany, have tested positive for HUS, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Spain says it will seek damages from Germany over initial claims that its produce was the source of the outbreak.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he would demand reparations for the economic losses suffered.
Germany had blamed Spanish cucumbers but has since accepted it was not the case.
Spanish fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they are losing 200m euros ($290m; £177m) a week in sales.
Sales of Spanish produce to supermarkets across Europe – not just of cucumbers, but of everything – have ground to a halt, says the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Almeria, Spain’s so-called fruitbasket.
Tens of thousands of kilos of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in Spain are being destroyed, she adds.