A recent deadly E.coli outbreak in Europe has already killed 18 people, 17 of them in Germany.

The 17th German victim, an 81-year-old woman passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning from the enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) bacterium, a kidney specialist at the clinic in the northern city of Hamburg said.

The World Health Organization says the E. coli outbreak in Germany is a strain never before seen in an outbreak (O104:H4).

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria that live in the intestines of people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are not harmful or cause fairly temporary diarrhea, such as what occurs in travelers to developing countries.

In the midst of this crisis, a study conducted by University of Southampton indicates that copper is effective in preventing the spread of such E. coli infections.

On a dry copper surface, the research reveals 10 million E. coli bacteria are eradicated within 10 minutes. On a wet copper surface, one could expect a total kill within 45 minutes. This antimicrobial property is inherent to the metal, and shared with alloys such as brass and bronze.

Experts say the best way to prevent E. coli infection is for individuals to wash their hands well and prepare food with caution. Also, eating cooked meat especially for ground beef, pork and turkey will help prevent E. coli infection. Avoiding swallowing lake or pool water while swimming is also helpful to prevent infections.

Below are the most common ways of getting E. coli infection:

* Eating undercooked ground beef (the inside is pink)

* Drinking contaminated (impure) water

* Drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk

* Working with cattle

The most common symptoms for E. coli are bloody diarrhea and stomach pain. People usually do not have a fever, or may have only a slight fever.

Some people, especially children younger than 5 and the elderly, can become very sick from E. coli . The infection damages their red blood cells and their kidneys. This only occurs to about 1 out of 50 people, but is very deadly. Without hospital care, people can die. Experts advise people to see a a doctor if E. coli infection is suspected.