European E. coli outbreak mishandled

A lab technition removes a sample from a patient who tested positive for the E. coli virus.

BOB MOON: Don't be pointing fingers too fast. That warning to Germany today, from the European Union's health chief. Germany has blamed the wrong source twice now, for tainted food that's already killed 22 people, and cost farmers billions in exports. It's reminiscent of our own big E. coli scare a couple of years ago.

Michael Osterholm heads the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. He's on the line with us now. Why is there such a problem pinpointing food contamination?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: First of all, any outbreak of this complex nature is difficult to readily and quickly identify the actual source. However, for those of us who have done a great deal of food born disease investigation work believe the Germans have botched this investigation. The way they've approached it, the methods they're using, and in short, the way they're arriving at their conclusions really leaves a lot to be desired.

MOON: How does this compare to the outbreaks that happened in the U.S. in the past few years?

OSTERHOLM: Well over the past several years, we've had a number of large, complicated outbreaks here too. And some of those depend on which states they occur in and how others were involved with the outbreaks also were challenged. But our group here in Minnesota for example which has pioneered many of the techniques used in food born disease -- epidemiology work and outbreak investigation activities have solved virtually all of these large outbreaks and we've had cases here in Minnesota. So I think it's fair to say that while this is a challenging area, it can be done, you can solve these kinds of outbreaks, and if the Germans were using the approaches and the tools that we've already pioneered and used here I believe we would've had an answer some time ago.

MOON: The University of Minnesota's Michael Osterholm, thanks.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

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