MSU Six E. coli Cases Confirmed, All Patients Released From Hospital

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There are now six confirmed cases of E. coli among Michigan State University students, all thought to be part of the initial isolated cluster of students with symptoms. However, all seven of the patients that had been originally hospitalized with the E. coli diarrheal illness have been released from Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital.

E. coli 0157:H7 is a bacterium that is a common source of food- and water-borne illnesses.

Ingham County Health Department officials say there are another 13 people who, because they all had cases of bloody diarrhea, are thought to be “probable” victims, although none of these nine students needed to be hospitalized.

The investigation into the source or sources of the illness continues, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working with the Ingham County Health Department and MSU. The health department has reiterated that there has not been any need, based on their investigation to this point, to shut down any of the university’s dining halls.

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The on-campus investigation focused on what is known as the east complex of residence halls – Akers, Holmes, Hubbard and McDonel halls. There also has been investigation of other off-campus community eating places, as well.

ICHD medical director Dean Sienko said nearly a dozen of his staff are working to determine the source of the illness. Calling it a “complex” case, Sienko said it’s a time-consuming process. “Upon receipt of a suspicious illness report, we conduct thorough food-history interviews: where, when and what was consumed,” he said. “It’s a real challenge conducting valid food intake histories for consumption that occurred a week ago or more.”

Health Department officials believe that all of these cases are part of an isolated cluster, and that they will understand, with the investigation that is ongoing, the source of the infection. However, collecting and analyzing the data carefully is critical to drawing sound conlusions. “Although all of us would like to have a quick resolution to the questions surrounding this episode, it cannot be at the expense of a careful and thorough investigation,” said MSU’s University Physician Beth Alexander.

Early this week, MSU distributed a campuswide e-mail, informing the university community of the incident and urging anyone who may have had symptoms, particularly bloody diarrhea, to contact the health department.

A number of students came forward, resulting in the additional 17 cases that are in the “probable” category, but not yet confirmed. In addition, MSU also has remained in close contact with all of its food vendors to assure safety of the food supply.

MSU serves more than 30,000 meals a day, and this is the first investigation into a food- or water-related illness that has occurred in more than 10 years. Health officials stress that hand washing remains the most effective method of preventing all forms of contagious illness.

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