East Complex students could hold key to E. coli outbreak

MSU officials are asking students living in East Complex — Akers, McDonel, Hubbard and Holmes halls — to help the state solve the ongoing E. coli outbreak that has affected 29 MSU students and 17 others in Michigan.

Thursday, students living in East Complex were sent an e-mail survey asking about their food consumption in the past three weeks. Their answers will be part of a control study that, when compared to the food consumption of the infected students, could help investigators narrow their search to a few foods responsible for the outbreak.

“We’re helping to administer the case study, asking some of our students to spend a little of their time assisting the investigation by being good Spartans to help the rest of the community and the rest of the state,” MSU University Physician Beth Alexander said. “It’s much broader than our community (but) it doesn’t mean the concern stops with our community.”

Eight MSU students have had culture-confirmed E. coli. Seven of those have been linked by DNA testing to a common strand of E. coli that has been found in the other 17 cases in the state.

As of Thursday evening, 24 cases in the state have been linked, including three at the University of Michigan and five at the Lenawee County Jail.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said E. coli cases with the same genetic link as the 24 in Michigan also have been found in three other states. Two cases were reported in Illinois and Ohio and one case was reported in Oregon.

State and county investigators believe the outbreak was caused by a commercial food service, one that would provide to institutions such as MSU and the Lenawee County Jail.

Earlier this week, the university removed turkey from residence hall cafeteria menus because it was an item of interest possibly related to the outbreak. After food and toxicology tests, Alexander said the turkey didn’t have any evidence of containment.

Ingham County Health Director Dean Sienko said the number of cases in Ingham County and MSU has decreased over the past three weeks. While 21 cases were reported in the week starting Sept. 7, only eight have been reported since, with none coming after Sept. 20.

“That to me is a good trend,” Sienko said. “Am I celebrating? No. There still is work to do and we’re watching the situation carefully. But the numbers are moving in the right direction certainly.”

While Sienko is confident the situation in Ingham County will continue to see a downward trend in the number of cases, Melinda Wilkins, the director of the Division of Communicable Disease at the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the statewide picture is not as clear.

“Statewide, we can’t make that same assertion that Ingham County can make,” she said. “At this point we can’t say that we are seeing a decrease in the number of cases, but we have not reached the same number we did last week, so in that sense it’s quite encouraging.”

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