UW-Madison officials confirmed Tuesday at least 11 cases of the E. Coli bacteria infection among UW students.
All the victims reported attending a pancake tailgate party at the UW Stock Pavilion before the Wisconsin vs. Indiana football game Saturday, Oct. 6; however, the source of infection has yet to be pinpointed.
Three of the victims were initially hospitalized, but two have since been released. A three-year-old Dane County resident was also diagnosed with the infection.
University Health Services and the Wisconsin Division of Public Health are currently investigating the matter, according to UHS epidemiologist Craig Roberts.
Tailgate party attendees were fed pancakes, sausage, milk and juice. However, Roberts said these are low-risk foods and were probably not the cause of the infections.
“We’re thinking it’s not the food, but some sort of environmental contamination,” Roberts said. “We’re still in the data-gathering phase.”
Roberts said victims may have been infected through contact with bacteria from animals sometimes kept in the pavilion. Livestock classes use the facility for animal studies Wednesdays and Thursdays. The last time the class was held prior to the tailgate was Oct. 4.
UHS received the first reports Oct. 11 from students experiencing abdominal cramps, severe or bloody diarrhea and fever. All reported symptoms began between Oct. 8 and 11. Lab tests Tuesday confirmed the presence of E. Coli.
“Everything that can be done by the university is being done, from a medical, public health and student support standpoint, to respond to this health concern,” Roberts said.
Amy Toburen, UW Associate Director of Communications, said the university is taking steps to determine the cause and scope of the infections.
“We’re being proactive in getting information out so others affected by [E. Coli] can let us know and we can pinpoint the problem,” Toburen said.
Symptoms of E. Coli infection include bloody diarrhea, painful abdominal cramps, fatigue, nausea and sometimes chills and fever. Young children, the elderly, and adults with health problems are at risk for potentially dangerous complications.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, E. Coli can be acquired through eating contaminated food or water, and by contact with fecal material from infected persons or animals. Undercooked beef and milk that has not been pasteurized are often linked with the E. Coli bacteria.
Infection risks can be minimized with handwashing after using the restroom, before cooking or eating, and after contact with anyone who shows E. Coli symptoms.
Officials have not yet discussed plans for next year’s tailgate party.
“I’m sure when they plan for next year, they’ll choose a different spot,” Roberts said.
Students who attended the Oct. 6 event and experienced symptoms between Oct. 7-13 should contact UHS, (608) 265-5600.