E.coli confirmed in Egypt tourist deaths

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On 21 August, a British couple staying at a hotel in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Hurghada, died after falling ill. Egyptian General Prosecutor Nabil Sadek said in an official statement that post-mortem examinations showed Escherichia coli bacteria was a factor in both deaths.

However, the couple’s daughter believes there is something fishy going on and dismissed this as ‘absolute rubbish’. Kelly Ormerod, who was staying at the hotel with her parents, John and Susan Cooper, told the BBC that she didn’t believe her parents’ symptoms were consistent with E. coli infection and that further post-mortem examinations of her parents' bodies would be carried out in the UK, on direction from the Home Office.

Although tests on air and water at the hotel found nothing unusual, as a precaution Thomas Cook evacuated 300 guests from the hotel. According to Kelly, her parents had used perfume to mask a strange odour in the room. The forensic report denied that there had been any leakage of harmful gases into the room, but detailed how the ‘unknown smell’ noticed by Kelly was ‘due to a leak of insecticide used in the next room’. It also stated that the insecticide, which is commonly used to control pests in gardening and agriculture, was safe to use, and denied that it had anything to do with the deaths.

According to the report, John died from a cardiac arrest after blockages to veins in his heart and also tested positive for E. coli bacteria. The report also found that he had consumed alcohol and marijuana, although there is no indication in the report that either contributed to his death. The report states that Susan suffered from Hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition that affects blood vessels and blood, and often occurs after people are infected with E coli. Further information in the report is that Kelly called doctors in the hotel to examine her parents. John was experiencing diarrhoea and vomiting and the ‘doctors gave him medicine they thought was appropriate, this being Ringer’s solution (rehydration salts) and a dexamethasone injection, a corticosteroid’. Sadly, his condition worsened, and he died in his room.

Kelly said that she wanted more transparency and has ‘no faith’ in the Egyptian authorities’ claim.  She added that she would wait for the results of tests done by the UK Home Office before coming to any conclusions about how her parents died.

Thomas Cook said it was clear ‘something went wrong in August at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel in Hurghada and that standards fell below what we expect from our hotel partners’. According to reports from guests, some people were so ill that they defecated involuntarily in the swimming pools, and some complained of being served undercooked and raw chicken and drinks from dirty glasses. It said that it is preparing a compensation package for customers who reported an illness while staying at the hotel in August and has also rolled out a programme of ‘specialist hygiene assessments’ to all its hotels that experience a higher-than-average reported level of sickness.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic deaths. All of our thoughts are with the family. In addition to our full support of the authorities, the tour operator and the franchise partner, we are highly engaged in running our own investigations,” said the Steigenberger hotel.

Egypt’s Tourism Minister Rania al-Mashat, said: “The causes of death, E coli bacteria, were medically determined by a team of internationally accredited pathologists, which I hope for the family’s sake will put an end to previous speculative suggestions of what might have happened.” However, Kelly is not convinced.