The French health ministers said a search is under way to determine the origin of the E. coli outbreak [AFP]

French authorities are investigating two new suspected cases of E. coli linked to hamburger patties that have already sickened seven children in northern France.

Health authorities on Saturday ordered a recall of 10 tonnes of the frozen beef patties produced in France and sold by the German supermarket chain Lidl, but said there was no link to a deadly outbreak of E. coli in Germany, that killed 39 people and made 3,000 ill.

Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said two new patients were being examined for signs of the virus and the results should be available Saturday.

The regional health chief, Daniel Lenoir, said the two ate the same beef patties and later suffered severe diarrhea.

Seven children, between 18 months and 8 years old, were hospitalised with E. coli linked to the patties in northern France on Wednesday and Thursday.

Doctors at the Lille University Hospital in northern France told a news conference on Friday that one of the hospitalised children, a 2-year-old, needs breathing assistance and is being held in an artificial coma.

The child ate one of the beef patties, which had been only slightly browned, Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said, urging parents to cook their meat thoroughly.

The 'Steak Country' burgers were bought in French branches of German supermarket Lidl [AFP]

Symptons

Regional Health Agency (ARS) officials in Lille said the children suffered from bloody diarrhoea, a symptom that also struck victims of the outbreak in Germany which has been blamed on infected bean sprouts.

They also became anaemic quickly and blood transfusions were required for four of the children. Three others suffer from renal failures severe enough to require dialyses, said Foulard.

"We are certain that this is not the same strain as the bean sprouts in Germany," Daniel Lenoir, the ARS head, said in Lille.

The children suffer from a syndrome that "may be the source of an acute renal failure", the ARS said, adding that the bacteria was a "rare type" which produces dangerous "Shiga" toxins.

Bertrand said a search was under way to determine the origin of the outbreak and stricter controls would be enforced at production sites.

'Nothing is confirmed'

Lamorlette, the SEB head, also said that the origin of the illness had yet to be confirmed.

"I'm not saying it's false [that the contamination came from the burgers], just that for now nothing is confirmed. It's a possibility, that's all. We have to await the test results before saying anything," he said.

Lamorlette insisted that the suspicious meat had been subjected to stringent tests and declared fit for human consumption, suggesting consumer negligence such as under-cooking or refreezing could be to blame.

In Brussels, the European Commission said it had been informed of the outbreak but "the origin of the meat has not been confirmed", according to Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for John Dalli, the EU health commissioner.

"There's no need to compare with Germany, because this isn't the same strain of the E. coli bacteria. This is different, even if it's as strong," Vincent said.

Source: Agencies