Around 1,000 people in northern Europe have fallen ill from the bacteria, but its source is unknown [AFP]

The number of people in Germany affected by an outbreak of the E-coli bacteria is growing, officials have said, with 365 new cases reported on Wednesday.

The Robert Koch institute, Germany's disease control centre, said one quarter of the latest cases involved a serious complication called hemolyti-uremic syndrome, which affects the blood and kidneys.

The syndrome has been a major factor in the majority of the 16 deaths since the outbreak began in mid-May.

European governments are scrambling to find the source of the outbreak, which has made more than 1,000 people in northern Europe ill.

The bacteria was first linked to contaminated Spanish cucumbers imported into Germany. But German officials said on Tuesday that recent tests have disproved the theory that the Spanish imports were the source of the deadly outbreak.

"Germany recognises that the Spanish cucumbers are not the cause," Robert Kloos, Germany's state secretary for agriculture said during an EU farm ministers meeting in Hungary.

Legal action

Spain said on Wednesday that it was considering legal action against German regional authorities for blaming its produce, after its vegetable exports were affected.

"There has never been a case of this nature in Spain, which means the bacteria is not in Spain," Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's deputy prime minister, told Cadena Ser, Spain's most listened-to radio station.

"We do not rule out taking action against authorities which have cast doubt on the quality of our produce, so action may be taken against the authorities, in this case, of Hamburg," he added.

The outbreak has caused diplomatic tensions between Germany, Spain, France, and Russia - with Moscow banning some vegetable imports and threatening to extend the ban to the whole European Union.

Spanish media reported that Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Sweden, Belgium and Russia are blocking entry of Spanish cucumbers.

As a result, Spanish farmers have said they are losing around $286m per week in lost sales.

Aguilar said Madrid would be asking "for extraordinary measures to compensate for the huge losses imposed on the Spanish sector".

Source: Agencies