MSU E. coli Linked to Over One Dozen Other Cases StatewideSep 25, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Yesterday we reported that the E. coli strain that had sickened students at Michigan State University (MSU) was linked to at least eight other cases in that state, including one at the University of Michigan (U-M) and five at the Lenawee County Jail. Now, the state Department of Community Health is reporting that the strain is now being linked to at least 13 other cases statewide. While investigators believe all the patients fell ill from the same food source, the source remains unidentified. "The problem is that we still don't know what the source is," said James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. Public health officials believe the eight confirmed infections at MSU may have come from contaminated food delivered to the campus.
Of the eight MSU students, five share a common DNA fingerprint with five cases that emerged out of the Lenawee County Jail, three in Macomb County, and one case each in Washtenaw, St. Clair, Wayne, Oakland, and Kent counties. According to Dean Sienko, medical director of the Ingham County Health Department, the common DNA fingerprint "strongly suggests that those are part of the same outbreak." There are also an additional 21 probable cases at MSU, Sienko said.
With evidence of a more widespread outbreak, McCurtis said state officials are interviewing those infected in an "effort to narrow down what was eaten and then to also take the DNA test and try to figure out what the common food source is." Health investigators initially focused on MSU's east complex dorms, where most of the ill students live, according to Sienko. Now that the cases are linked to others around the state, it is possible that the contaminated food was widely distributed.
E. coli O157:H7 is a virulent, contagious, and sometimes fatal strain typically spread when a person fails to properly wash his/her hands and then handles food. Once tainted food is ingested, bacteria run amok. E. coli are found in animal intestines and feces and while some strains are necessary for digestion, some are harmful, even deadly. Of particular concern is O157:H7, which is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks and is to blame in this outbreak. O157:H7 is among those E. coli in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC), which are linked to food poisoning, are very serious, and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. Also, this strain produces a Shiga toxin, which can damage intestines and kidneys and causes bloody diarrhea, the warning sign of an infection and a common indicator in this strain.
E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness in the U.S. and accounts for about 73,000 infections and 61 deaths; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks. And, now, there is growing concern in the scientific community—not just because of the seeming prevalence of all manner of food borne illnesses—because instances of drug resistant E. coli are being reported world-wide and are similar in path to a mutated staph called MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus that, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.