Michigan State University Students Struggle with E. coli Outbreak

An outbreak of the highly toxic E. coli O157:H7 has sickened at least ten students at MSU in Lansing. All of the students experienced bloody diarrhea, a flag indicator of E. coli infection, and each sought medical care at Sparrow Hospital. Seven remain hospitalized.

“E. coli is a virulent, powerful bacterium that can make people very, very sick,” cautioned food borne illness attorney William Marler. “I’m concerned by the references to E. coli as being dangerous only to the very young and very old. Although those groups are definitely more at risk, the infection can cause serious health issues for victims of any age.”

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are members of a large group of bacterial germs that inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Most strains—or serotypes—of E. coli do not cause disease in humans, but the toxic serotypes can cause serious illness and even death.

E. coli is often contracted by consuming food or beverage that has been contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure. The majority of food borne E. coli outbreaks has been traced to contaminated ground beef; however leafy vegetables that have been contaminated in fields or during processing have been increasingly identified as the source of outbreaks, as have unpasteurized milk and cheese, unpasteurized apple juice and cider, alfalfa and radish sprouts, orange juice, and even water. There have also been outbreaks associated with petting zoos and agricultural fairs.

The first symptom of E. coli infection is the onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by bloody diarrhea. This is hemorrhagic colitis, and it typically occurs within 2 to 5 days of ingestion of E. coli; however the incubation period—the time between the ingestion of E. coli bacteria and the onset of illness—may be as broad as 1 to 10 days.

“Because of the incubation period, there could still be new illnesses at MSU”, continued Marler. “Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention. It’s important to get appropriate care and take steps to make sure that the infection is not passed on to others.”