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The Cause of E. coli Outbreak Remains Unknown

Investigators continue their search for the source of bacteria that landed students in the hospital.

Kenneth Cyprian, Contributor

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The investigation to find the cause of the E. coli 157 outbreak at Cal State LA may take longer than initially expected. Officials from the Los Angeles Department of Health estimated that it may take them two months to track down the bacteria that sent four students to the hospital and closed the dining hall for a week.

The investigation to find the bacteria’s origin is “fairly complex” because “there were many potential sources of illness as the exposure occurred during event week,” said the Department of Public Health in an email.

The E. coli bacteria, aka STEC Infection, most commonly forms by way of “a person consuming food or water contaminated with the bacteria or by direct contact with infected persons or animals or their environment,” said DPH officials.

This specific illness is commonly linked to “raw or uncooked beef products, raw produce, raw milk and contact with contaminated surfaces or water sources,” added DPH officials.   

Cal State LA health officials closed the dining commons on Feb. 20 as a precautionary measure. The dining hall was then cleaned and inspected by an outside firm. The school concluded that it was safe enough to begin serving students again on the evening of Feb. 26.

“The fact that the outbreak did not affect a larger segment of our Cal State LA population may be a good indicator that the food source was isolated and/or that students and staff engage in good hygiene, namely frequent hand washing,” said Cal State LA’s resident epidemiologist Dr. Claudia Toledo-Corral.     

Symptoms associated with E. coli include diarrhea, blood in stool, abdominal cramps and vomiting. Affected individuals should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and seek immediate care from the University’s Student Health Center or their personal healthcare provider.

There are several ways to protect against infection and as well as means to prevent future outbreaks at the University.

According to DPH officials, the easiest way to prevent breakouts is, “frequently washing your hands with warm soapy water, specifically after restroom visits and eating or prepping food.”

Other methods of prevention are also effective. DPH officials explained options including “safe food handling practices such as keeping raw foods separate from ready-to-eat food and washing raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating. Lastly, avoid drinking untreated water.”

With incidents such as the E. coli outbreak affecting students at the University, it’s critical to stay safe and practice good hygiene.

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