HAMBURG - Germany expects the death toll from the E.coli outbreak to rise although the number of new infections from the virulent strain of bacteria that has killed 24 people is likely to drop, the government said on Wednesday.
"There will be new cases and unfortunately we have to expect more deaths, but the number of new infections are dropping significantly," Health Minister Daniel Bahr told German TV.
"I can't sound the all-clear, but after analysing the latest data we have reasonable cause for hope," he said.
The German government has been criticised at home and around Europe for its failure to pin down the cause of the outbreak that has stricken over 2,400 people in 12 countries. All cases have been traced back to near Hamburg in northern Germany.
The European Union's health chief John Dalli, attending a crisis meeting with officials in Berlin, urged Germany to seek the help of international experts in dealing with what may be the deadliest outbreak of E.coli so far.
About one third of E.coli patients in the latest outbreak have developed a severe complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) affecting the blood, kidneys and nervous system.
Analysis of samples from restaurants, canteens and kitchens which prepared food where patients ate has failed to yield conclusive evidence for the theory that organic sprouts from a farm in the state of Lower Saxony are to blame.
With the critical spotlight on the German federal system which divides responsibility for crisis response between state and central authorities, Bahr rejected calls for a national "epidemic police". He said it was "typically German" to call for a new authority every time there is a fresh crisis.
The EU faces compensation costs of more than 150 million euros ($220 million) for farmers hit by plummeting sales of raw vegetables, after Germany first blamed cucumbers from Spain and other salad vegetables, and then German bean sprouts.
"We must draw on the experience in all of Europe and even beyond," Dalli told Die Welt newspaper. "I emphasise strongly how important it is to cooperate closely and share specialist knowledge to bring the E.coli outbreak to an end quickly."
Dalli's visit comes as German authorities struggle to pin down the source of the month-old outbreak of a rare strain of E.coli. He advised Berlin to use the experience of countries which have dealt with E.coli outbreaks.
The United States and Japan have had similar deadly outbreaks linked to sprouts while it was a Chinese laboratory that used DNA sequencing technology to identify this E.coli outbreak as a new and "highly infectious and toxic" strain.