Japan scrambles to stem E. coli outbreak
Seven dead; U.S. help accepted
July 24, 1996
Web posted at: 10:15 a.m. EDT (1415 GMT)
TOKYO (CNN) -- Alarmed by the mounting death toll from a food
poisoning epidemic, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto
called an emergency meeting of his cabinet Wednesday and
announced a food inspection program to check the spread of
Seven people have died and 8,400 have been sickened this year
from food poisoning linked to an E. coli bacteria known as
0-157 colon bacillus bacteria. The latest victims, who died
Tuesday, were a 10-year-old girl and an 85-year-old woman.
Calling the outbreak a "national issue," Hashimoto said the
government would step up inspection efforts and accept
assistance from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and
Hashimoto, whose government has been accused of lagging in
its response to the epidemic, also urged people to seek
medical attention immediately if they think they may have the
Earlier, Hashimoto told reporters, "I feel helpless, that
this might be the limit of modern medicine."
Nearly 6,400 people have come down with the illness in Sakai,
a city near Osaka. Health authorities say the bacteria has
stricken another 2,000 people elsewhere in Japan since May.
Almost 100 children hospitalized in Sakai are believed to
have acquired the bacteria from tainted school lunches
prepared by city kitchens. Most were listed in serious
condition, with 28 in critical condition and another three in
Researchers have tested some 1,000 samples of food prepared
for Sakai's 92 primary schools but have not been able to
pinpoint the exact source of the bacteria.
Eugene Aksenoff, the medical director of the International
Clinic in Tokyo, said the widespread use of antibiotics,
which can produce disease if not taken as instructed by
doctors, might have produced a new strain of E. coli. (258K AIFF or WAV sound)
The speed and size of the outbreak has triggered widespread
panic in Japan. Health officials warned people not to eat
raw meat, which is a delicacy in the country.
Officials say as long as the source of the bacteria is
unknown, the epidemic will continue.
Correspondent May Lee and Reuters contributed to this report.
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