MSU Students With Dangerous, Potentially Fatal E. Coli Strain

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

Ten Michigan State students, all living on campus, all have one thing in common: symptoms of E. Coli.

"This picture, this clinical picture, bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain-- bells started going off in my head-- this is E. Coli 0157:H7, which is a particularly dangerous strain of E. Coli," says Dr. Dean Sienko, director of the Ingham County Health Department.

Dr. Sienko says three out of the seven hospitalized now officially have the potentially fatal infection.

"This particular strain releases a toxin that can be very dangerous, it damages the intestine walls, that's why you get the bloody diarrhea associated with it. It can cause death, there are 70,000 cases of it a year, and 60 people die of it every year," Dr. Sienko says.

Michigan State University physician Dr. Beth Alexander says the strain comes either from undercooked food or fecal-contamination.

"We don't know the source yet of the infection," Dr. Alexander says.

All the infected students had been using electronic swipe cards that track their meals on campus, so campus officials can check to see if they ate any foods in common that may have led to this potentially deadly strain of E. Coli.

"They'll help in the investigation," Dr. Alexander says, calling them a useful "tool" for the health department's investigation.

They don't know yet if the E. Coli came from dorm cafeterias-- they'll check, of course, but also interview students extensively on what and where else they ate last week.

"That's all being looked at. We have aggressive food safety, but it doesn't mean people don't make mistakes," Dr. Alexander says.

All the infected students are expected to make a full recovery, but Dr. Sienko says likely more students had E. Coli than reported the infection.

If you think you have E. Coli, please call the Ingham County Health Department at (517) 887-4308.

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