I went to Hanover in the North of Germany last week and spent the last couple of days scanning my body for symptoms of EHEC, always wondering “Do I have it?”.
EHEC spreads and with it the fear spreads from Germany across Europe. It is such a sneaky disease! No one knows where it comes from, there is no real way of treating it and there is no end in sight.
On the day I arrived in Hanover, the German papers announced that the hospitals in Hamburg were full and EHEC patients had to be brought to Hanover. Perfect.
That was still when everyone thought Spanish cucumbers were the source (which apparently they aren’t, which resulted in Spain claiming compensation money from Germany).
But also they warned not to eat any raw vegetables (and some say fruit). In the lobby of my hotel, I picked up an apple. Didn’t eat that.
The undercover threat
The tricky thing with this EHEC is that we have so little information and so much fear that many people just stopped following their daily routines and changed their diet.
In the supermarkets vegetables and fruit pile up and if vegetables are supposed to be part of a meal, families get out the disposable gloves.
People tell each other who is still eating tomatoes, and it sounds like a really brave, but probably silly thing – like bungee jumping.
“I don’t have EHEC, do I?,” I kept saying to my friends, listening to my growling stomach. They just shrugged.
There was no salad on the bread rolls we had for lunch. No cucumbers. No tomatoes. I ate some grapes and felt really suicidal about that.
Picked up a readymade salad in the supermarket, only remembered afterwards that I am not supposed to eat that.
Starting to get the symptoms
In the night I couldn’t sleep because of stomach cramps. I thought – that’s it.
When I woke up, I felt really sick. I called a hospital to ask them what to do. They said, I had some of the symptoms, but all they could do would be to put me in quarantine.
My flight back to London was in the evening and there was no way I could inhabit a quarantine tent that day.
Then I called the public health department which forwarded my call to their doctor. She said that it was possible that I had EHEC, but that the incubation period is between three and ten days.
I should watch it and see.
Probably, this advice surprises you, but actually, it’s perfectly fine. As EHEC is a strain of Ecoli, it can be a “normal” gastric infection that is not unusual.
Symptoms would be: diarrhea, nausea, sometimes puking, cramps and fever. If you get “just” that, you should be fine after some days.
Now, EHEC is such a threat, because it now seems to combine two sorts of bacteria, is untreatable with antibiotics and attacks the body in such a malicious way that it can even kill it.
So, as soon as the diarrhea gets bloody your alarm bells should ring and you must see a doctor immediately.
Because EHEC dissolves the intestines (hence the blood) and then starts attacking the kidneys, until they fail, which can result in death.
That is why some EHEC patients get their blood “washed” in the hospital – as the kidneys can’t do it any longer.
EHEC or not EHEC?
The following days, I was very careful with what I ate. Monitoring everything my body did.
Now, the ten days are over and I seem to be ok.
So, apparently it was just my psyche playing tricks on me. I was so afraid of getting these symptoms that I actually did get some.
Concluding, I can tell you: If you have these symptoms: Don’t panic. There is no need to as long as you don’t see blood.
Well, let’s hope they find the source soon, so we can get rid of this for good and start eating salads again…
You may also be interested in reading my other blog post “What exactly is this EHEC virus?”