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France : seven French children hospitalised by E. coli outbreak

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Seven children were hospitalised in  France with E. coli infections after eating meat that manufacturers said could  come from Germany, where an outbreak of the bacteria has killed 37 people.

The children, the youngest of whom is 20 months old, had eaten defrosted  hamburgers made by the French company SEB which said the meat was taken from  animals slaughtered in three European countries and processed in France.

The cases come after a major E. coli outbreak that killed 38 people — all in Germany except for one woman who died in Sweden after visiting Germany —  and sickened 3,300 people in 16 countries.    Officials said the infection was a rare strain of the E. coli bacteria and  was not linked to the similar outbreak in Germany.    “There’s meat from Germany, there’s meat from Belgium and from Holland” in  the burgers, SEB chief executive Guy Lamorlette told AFP.

“There are several suppliers. We will have to await the test results to say  which is contaminated.”

A spokesman for the Regional Health Agency (ARS) in Lille, northern France,  where six of the children were hospitalised on Wednesday, told AFP: “They are  in a serious but not worrying state. Their lives are not at all in danger.”

A seventh child was taken to hospital on Thursday, authorities said.    The “Steak Country” burgers were bought in French branches of German  supermarket Lidl. SEB said it had recalled them and Lidl said it had removed  them from its shelves in France.

The ARS official said the children had suffered from bloody diarrhoea, a  symptom that also struck victims of the outbreak in Germany which has been  blamed on infected vegetable sprouts.    The French infections “have no link at present with the recent epidemic in  Germany,” the official added, however.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it had been informed of the  outbreak but “the origin of the meat has not been confirmed,” said Frederic  Vincent, spokesman for Health Commissioner John Dalli.

“There’s no need to compare with Germany, because this isn’t the same  strain of the E. coli bacteria. This is different, even if it’s as strong,”  Vincent said.

SEB boss Lamorlette said that the origin of the illness had yet to be  confirmed.

“I’m not saying it’s false (that the contamination came from the burgers),  just that for now nothing is confirmed. It’s a possibility, that’s all. We  have to await the test results before saying anything.”

Lamorlette insisted that the suspect meat had been subjected to stringent  tests and declared fit for human consumption, suggesting consumer negligence  such as under-cooking or refreezing could be to blame.

Lille, France, June 16, 2011 (AFP)