Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 6/23/2011 12:45:53 PM ET 2011-06-23T16:45:53

An Arizona man who traveled to Germany recently has died, and health officials in the United States are investigating whether the person was infected with an outbreak strain of E. coli food poisoning that has infected nearly 3,800 people and killed 43 across Europe.

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Officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Arizona infection has not yet been confirmed to be the same bacteria responsible for the European outbreak: Shiga-toxin producing E. coli 0104:H4.

The man, who was older than 65, died in mid-June, according to Arizona health officials. The Northern Arizona resident had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a severe side effect of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure, which raised suspicions that his illness was connected to the European outbreak.

If confirmed, the man's death would be the first in the U.S. tied to the outbreak.

The death is among five confirmed cases and one suspect case of STEC 0104:H4 in U.S. residents, including four who recently traveled to Germany and one who contracted the infection from a traveler.

U.S. residents in Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina have been confirmed to be infected with the outbreak strain.

The outbreak, which plagued Europe since the beginning of May, has been blamed on contaminated sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany, though they're not sure how the sprouts became tainted.

Researchers have said that the deadly bug is a mix of two dangerous E. coli strains that mixed together to create an especially tenacious toxin. More than 800 people in Europe developed HUS, officials said.

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