A slice of a Spanish cucumber, photographed on May 30, as Germans deal with a national outbreak of E. coli. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Update:

Germany’s federal agriculture minister conceded Tuesday that “Spanish cucumbers are not the cause [of the E. coli outbreak],” according to the Guardian. Germany is now scrambling to find out the real source of the outbreak.

Spain said it was considering suing German officials for blaming its cucumbers for the E. coli outbreak, and for the damage it has likely already done to its food export and farm business, Reuters reported. Spanish farmers have said they are losing around $286m per week in lost sales.

The number dead has now risen to 16 people, and the number sickened 1,500 in Germany, Sweden and other countries. 365 new cases were also reported on Wednesday. The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's disease control center, said one quarter of the latest cases involved a serious complication called hemolyti-uremic syndrome, which affects the blood and kidneys, according to al-Jazeera.

Original post:

An outbreak of E. coli in Germany reportedly has claimed the lives of 11, sickened 1,000, and scared thousands more with headlines like “Cucumber Victims Will Increase.”

While the German government has said it was caused by Spanish cucumbers, Spain’s agriculture minister has said Germany blamed their cucumbers “without having reliable data.” Spanish language LaVanguardia.com also quotes a German health official as saying that the bacteria found on the cucumbers does not match the bacteria found in patients’ stool.

Either way, Germany isn’t dealing with just any old super-bacterium. The E. coli is reported to be of a specific virotype — the tongue-twisting Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC).

There are several strains of EHEC, including the very common strain O157, which infects in the U.S. every year some 70,000 people, who suffer from bloody diarrhea, serious liver damage, and sometimes even death.

Germany’s outbreak was originally reported by some media outlets to be O157, but health officials have issued a statement that says E. coli O104:H21, a rarer serotype, is the culprit.

O104:H21 was discovered in 1982, when it caused an outbreak of severe bloody diarrhea to a group of people in Oregon and Michigan who had eaten infected hamburgers that weren't fully cooked.

Similar to 0157, E. coli O104:H21 causes gastrointestinal illness and diarrhea.

O104:H21 comes and leaves relatively quickly — the body usually rids itself of harmful O104:H21 on its own within 5 to 10 days. Antibiotics should not be used to treat it.

The gross part is knowing where the infection comes from — the lower intestine of mammals. If Spanish cucumber culprits are at fault for the outbreak, the cucumbers may have been contaminated by a malfunctioning municipal sewage treatment plant or by farm run off.

You should always contact your doctor if you think you have an E. coli infection. Even if all you did was eat a cucumber.

This post has been updated. It was originally reported that the outbreak was caused by E. coli O107, but the German government issued a statement that it was caused by E. coli O104:H21.