U.K. Tourists Died of Illness Triggered by E. Coli, Egypt Says

(Bloomberg) -- A British couple vacationing at the Red Sea resort of Hurghada last month died of illness triggered by E. coli bacteria, Egypt’s prosecutor said Wednesday, citing a forensic report.

John and Susan Cooper died on Aug. 21 while staying at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel. The couple had been booked at the hotel through tour operator Thomas Cook Group Plc, and their death prompted the company to offer to fly out guests it had taken to the property.

Forensic tests showed that John Cooper suffered from gastroenteritis caused by E. coli bacteria, which in turn led to a tightening of the coronary arteries that reduced blood supply to his heart, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

His wife died as a result of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which was probably caused by an E. coli infection given that “she was living with her deceased husband in the same room, accompanying him in travel and eating the same food.” Tests on the room showed no evidence of poisons or other unusual substances, the statement said. John died at the hotel. Susan fell ill in the hotel and died in a local hospital.

E. coli is commonly found in the human gut, where it usually causes no harm. The bacteria on food can cause lethal outbreaks.

Authorities conducted tests on 26 food and beverage staff members at the hotel and found that three had bacterial infections unrelated to the causes of death of the British couple, according to the report. Tests of the drinking water in the hotel were free of any harmful bacteria or fungus and there was no trace of gas-induced poisoning in the Coopers’ blood, it added.

SGS, the service provider that tested air, water and food quality at the hotel following the tragedy, on Sept. 10 released a report that said it found non-conforming levels of E. coli and Staphylococcus bacteria on raw and rare meat at two of the hotel’s restaurants.

The five-star family resort, which opened in January 2014, features 703 rooms, an exclusive water slide park, a rooftop swimming pool, a private beach, and five restaurants. Steigenberger is a brand of hotel operator Deutsche Hospitality in Frankfurt.

A spokesman for Deutsche Hospitality said the company was still going through the information released, and had no immediate comment. In a statement, Thomas Cook noted the Egyptian announcement, but said it needed more time for the company’s own experts to review it.

The deaths could harm Egypt’s vital tourism sector, which has begun to recover after a series of militants attacks including the downing of a Russian jetliner in 2015 that killed all 224 on board.

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