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New E. coli Outbreak Emerging at Michigan State University

Sep 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Ingham County Health Department is investigating an emerging E. coli bacteria outbreak at the Michigan State University after 10 students were treated this weekend with severe gastrointestinal illness that appeared to be E. coli poisoning.  Seven remained hospitalized as of yesterday; spokesman John Lux said all of those who fell ill are responding well to treatment and their conditions are "favorable for their recovery.”

Investigators are trying to determine where and when the students ate based on swipes of their college ID cards in campus cafeterias and eateries.  The information on these activities is expected back today and is hoped to help locate if bacteria in the food supply there may still be a threat.  "We are trying to get a grasp on how big this (outbreak) is," said Dr. Dean G. Sienko, Ingham County Health Department officer.  This is the first such food-borne outbreak Sienko remembers that involves a health department investigation at MSU in the past two decades, he said.  The investigation is in its early stages as investigators continue to work to determine the scope and cause of the sickness and the specific E. coli strain.  Sienko believes that since the last reported case of onset occurred on Friday, the outbreak may have fully run is course, but because many who fall ill with food-borne illnesses do not ever seek care, many others may have also been contaminated.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  Some strains of Escherichia coli are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the very rare and toxin-producing strain E. coli O111 that is the culprit in the ongoing Oklahoma outbreak.  Also, of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 stain that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks.  Both strains are among those E. coli that may cause serious disease and death and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) and are linked to food poisoning and are very serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, accounting 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.

Scientists are concerned infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are spreading into the greater population and several countries are now reporting such cases.  Researchers compare this to the worldwide problem of community-acquired MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—an antibiotic-resistant staph developing resistance to the last drug of choice.  In addition, emerging data confirms that E. coli’s negative health effects can remain for months and years and that these illnesses can have long-term, lasting effects that can either linger for months or years or can show up months or years after the original illness was seemingly resolved with problems emerging as late as 10 to 20 years later in the form of kidney problems, high blood pressure, and kidney failure.


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