MELISSA BLOCK, host:

German health authorities say they think they have identified the cause of the E. coli outbreak. It's made 3,000 people sick and killed at least 30. NPR's Richard Knox tells us more.

RICHARD KNOX: Dr. Reinhard Burger of the German disease control center says it hasn't been possible to pin down the source of the outbreak. But at a press conference today in Berlin, he says there's one strong possibility.

Dr. REINHARD BURGER: (Speaking foreign language).

KNOX: They've narrowed it down to sprouts, he says. But they haven't been able to detect E. coli on any food samples. It's just that people who ate raw sprouts were more likely to get sick than those who didn't, nine times more likely.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says this doesn't constitute scientific proof.

Dr. THOMAS FRIEDEN (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): The smoking gun is when you can find from the people who are sick the specific strain, find from the source the specific strain and then do sophisticated DNA testing to prove that they are identical.

KNOX: Still, Frieden thinks the Germans may be right this time.

Dr. FRIEDEN: We'll have to see what the evidence shows, but all of the information they're reporting suggests that it's the likely cause.

KNOX: One reason is that sprouts are notorious disease carriers. They've caused nearly three-dozen outbreaks of food-borne illness in this country since 1996. That's because bacteria often get inside sprout seeds. Then the seeds are grown in warm, moist conditions that are ideal for multiplying the germs. Frieden no longer thinks of raw sprouts as health food.

Dr. FRIEDEN: I'll tell you, when I was living in India, I brought sprouts from the U.S. - this is 15 years ago, before we understood how much of a challenge they could be to keep sterile - and when I got ill and couldn't identify the source, I realized it was probably actually inside the seed that I had imported into India from the U.S.

KNOX: He doesn't eat them now, and the CDC advises against raw sprouts for pregnant women, elderly people, young children and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

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