Friday, September 19, 2008

How Many MSU Students Stricken With E. coli O157:H7?

The public relations staffer at Michigan State University who put together today's news release must have failed Communications, Math 101, or both. It's almost impossible to tell how many students may be victims of the E. coli O157:H7 strain that has sent seven students to hospital.

The first report of the campus outbreak indicated that ten students were suffering from "infectious diarrhea" and seven of the ten had been hospitalized. Three of the students were confirmed to have been infected by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7.

According to the update issued today by MSU, all seven of the hospitalized students have been released. The number of lab-confirmed outbreak cases has increased to six. That's straightforward.

But it's difficult to tell how many "probable" cases are still under investigation. The MUS news release refers, in one paragraph, to "... 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." And in a later paragraph, to "... the additional 17 cases that are in the "probable" category, but not yet confirmed."

So, are there 17 "probable" victims in addition to the six confirmed cases, or 13 "probable" victims, or 9 "probable" victims? Maybe the next update will be more clear. As best we can tell, there may be as many as 23 students who have been affected by this outbreak.

MSU is still conducting an investigation, in cooperation with USDA and the Ingham County health department, to find the source of the E. coli O157:H7 that has invaded its campus. The health department has not asked that any of the campus dining halls be shut down, claiming that the information gleaned so far does not indicate a need to close these down.

MSU continues to ask any students who experience symptoms of gastroenteritis – especially bloody diarrhea – to contact the county health department at (517) 887-4308.


  1. Hi Phyllis. Its not unusual for the epi data to be rough at frist due to reporting errors and calcualtion, whatever the number the trend is up, meaning either there is a vast amount of secondary exposure or that there is a contnuous source of the pathogen. The fact that they are leaving the food service open means they do not have enough statistical evidence to make an assocition with a food product. As the cases start to grow the data and evidence gets better for pin-pointing causation. But MSU could close them as a precaution. This has got to be a huge embarassment for MSU since it has such a high profile food safety image. Outbreaks like this are ofetn sentinel events there are other E coli outbreaks around the US, I am wondering if anyone has taken the time to identify the starins and do some PFG electrophoresis and get a an idea of the genetic linakges amongst the ones circulating around. Best guess its either beef, a beef product or leafy greens. Once cross contamination sets in you can easily have a continuous exposure source even after the original vehicle is long gone.

  2. Hi Roy, and welcome!

    I agree with your assessment. But I'm sure that the county or MSU must have a running total of "confirmed cases" - which they have given as six – and "cases under investigation".

    I realize that the numbers are bound to change, but I was amazed at the muddled presentation. Perhaps I shouldn't have been. After all, how many of us still know how to write effectively and clearly?

    Given the size of the MSU campus, I can't see the practicality of a general precautionary shut-down of all campus dining halls. It would be different if suspicion was focused on just one or two of them.

    I'll be watching the MSU site and posting updated info as it becomes available.


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