Laurier hit by E. coli

Last weekend, two students and one staff member from Wilfrid Laurier University were confirmed by Region of Waterloo Public Health to have been contaminated by E. coli bacteria.

A fourth case was later deemed as a probable secondary case through person-to-person transmission. All victims were treated at Grand River Hospital and sent home.

“It’s very serious,” said dean of students David McMurray, regarding the investigation into the source of the E. coli. “You basically have to co-operate with public health.”

Public health officials have been continuing the investigation; however, the source of the transmission of the bacteria has not yet been determined.

“There is absolutely nothing that they uncovered that would suggest it happened at Laurier. The evidence collected from the victims who got sick is not conclusive at all. They can’t track it,” said McMurray.

Investigators examined food samples from both Food Services and Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union businesses – the only two companies that sell food on campus. “We have since had a full public health visit and all our food operations were found to be compliant with public health,” said WLUSU general manager Mike McMahon.

According to Hsiu-Li Wang, associate medical officer of health for the Waterloo Region, the initial inspection occurred over the weekend and follow-up visits were made by investigators to examine the food sources on Monday and Tuesday.

She added that it is unlikely the bacteria came from any of the water sources on campus, which can be one of the most dangerous sources of contamination occurs.

“You normally would expect that there would be more cases if it was widespread in the water system,” said Wang. “It’s very rare. Most of the time it has to do either with contaminated food or person-to-person transmissions.”

Wang added that the investigation is ongoing in an attempt to discover where the source of the bacteria is and ensure that there is not something still out there making people sick.

“Our investigation focused on making sure that in all common sources where it might be occurring there is no ongoing contamination or unsafe practices,” said Wang.

McMurray noted that the university will continue to work with “If it’s here, we want to fix it. If it’s not, then we want that information out to the public,” said McMurray.

He added that while evidence remains to be collected, all of Laurier food production on campus will continue to run as it did before the outbreak.

The Waterloo region normally sees about 20 cases of E. coli per year; however, there haven’t been any other reports from people outside the Laurier community recently.

Most cases occur during the summer as they are often associated with hamburgers in the barbeque season.

“Sometimes you never really find out what the cause is,” said Wang.

“It doesn’t mean there is a risk associated with the Laurier campus, it just means that we have to look into it to ensure there is no ongoing risk to the people on the campus.”

E. coli symptoms

– Start about seven days after infection

– Severe abdominal cramps that start suddenly

– Watery diarrhea, causing tiredness as a result of dehydration

– Diarrhea changes to bright red bloody stools

– May have a mild fever

– Nausea and vomiting are also common symptoms

Prevention

– Cook ground beef to at least 155°F

– Defrost meats in the refrigerator or the microwave

– Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods

– Don’t consume unpasteurized milk, cheese or dairy products

– Keep food refrigerated or frozen

– People with diarrhea, working in day cares or homes for the elderly or cooking should wash their hands carefully and often

How you catch it

– Eating undercooked ground beef (pink inside)

– Drinking contaminated (impure) water

– Drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk

– Working with animals, mostly cattle

– Passed between workers in day care centers and nursing home

*A person infected is very contagious

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