- Associated Press - Saturday, June 11, 2011

HAMBURG, GERMANY (AP) - Blood specialist Dr. Cay-Uwe von Seydewitz has been making his rounds 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, since the outbreak of a deadly bacterial epidemic.

The wing he’s in charge of was a construction site a month ago _ hastily converted back into useable space to keep up with the spike in patients needing massive blood plasma exchanges to try and purge their systems of the toxins from the aggressive, previously unknown form of E. coli.

Like other doctors, nurses and hospital staff around Germany, for von Seydewitz taking a day off has not been an option.

“If you have a new illness, it’s important to have the same doctor from the start to the end to see how it changes over time,” said von Seydewitz, wearing blue hospital scrubs and sporting a 5 o’clock shadow at midday, standing near stacks of supplies in brown boxes still on their pallets.

Investigators on Friday breathed a sigh of relief, saying that their epidemiological probe of the pattern of the outbreak produced enough evidence to conclude vegetable sprouts from a farm in Lower Saxony were the cause of the outbreak _ even while noting that work for medical professionals was far from over. As of Saturday, the outbreak had killed 33 people and sickened nearly 3,100.

“There will be new cases,” warned Reinhard Burger, head of the Robert Koch Institute _ Germany’s national disease control center.

In Kiel and Luebeck, which have also been hit hard in the outbreak, doctors have been taking only short naps on stretchers in hospital hallways and staying in the building for days in a row, said Oliver Grieve, the spokesman for the university hospitals in the northern cities.

Others canceled their vacations or called in from hospitals around the country to offer their help for overwhelmed clinics in northern Germany.

“There has been a very high level of commitment,” Grieve said. “It is amazing to see how everyone has done the utmost to help out in this crisis.”

More than 700 of the patients in Germany are suffering not only from diarrhea and cramps but have also developed a life-threatening complication that can cause kidney failure, and require round-the-clock medical care.

Dr. Friedrich Hagenmueller, the medical director of Asklepios Hospital Altona, the hospital where von Seydewitz works which has seen about 200 patients total, noted that with such an illness it’s not just the doctors and nurses working overtime but the cleaning staff.

“We brought people back from the holidays _ they must constantly clean and disinfect the toilets,” he told The Associated Press during a break in making his rounds. “The turnover of the patients is relatively quick, and when a patient is released they have to quickly clean and disinfect the toilets and I haven’t heard a word of complaint.”

While the numbers of newly infected patients are slowly declining, hospitals are still working to the limit with hundreds of people still in intensive care. Earlier this week, health authorities said there were still some 670 patients suffering from severe complications including kidney failure, paralysis and epileptic seizures.

“We still have some extra 12 dialysis nurses from southern Germany working with us” at the university hospitals in Kiel and Luebeck, Grieve said.

At Asklepios Hospital in Hamburg this week, von Seydewitz was overseeing 22 patients undergoing blood plasma exchange to try and remove the toxins from their system. In the procedure, doctors remove which four liters (quarts) of blood plasma and replace it with fresh plasma for three days in a row _ or longer if needed.

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