Friday, July 17th, 2009
By Shelley Grieshop
Search for shigella source continues
  Local health officials are still searching for the source of a highly-contageous disease that sickened about 100 guests at a wedding reception in Celina on June 27.
Seventeen cases of shigellosis have been confirmed so far, including seven each in Mercer and Auglaize counties. Two people were hospitalized and are recovering.
Tests on the chicken that was served at the celebration at Romer's Catering facility in Celina came back negative for the shigella bacteria on Thursday. All other food items served that day were disposed of by the time the health department learned of the problem six days after the event, officials said.
The time lost for investigative purposes is a major concern, said Joyce Jansen, director of nursing and communicable diseases at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department.
"The problem is, we got in the game late," she said this morning.
Jansen said she was first told of the outbreak on July 3 after a local doctor notified her about a patient hospitalized with shigellosis. Health Commissioner Dr. Philip Masser also spoke with her that day about the growing number of wedding guests falling ill.
Jason Romer, who handled the June event for the bride and groom, said he learned about the problem two days after the wedding.
"I got a call from the family," he said this morning.
Romer said he didn't contact the health department because he didn't believe the food served at the reception was the source. Not everyone who got sick ate the chicken - the food item most under suspicion.
Chicken and salads are
items most commonly found with the bacteria although even ice can become contaminated, Jansen confirmed.
Shigella is easily passed from one infected person to the next from stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another. It can be acquired from eating contaminated food or drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Infections can spread quickly when basic hygiene and handwashing habits are inadequate.
Besides diarrhea, symptoms of shigellosis can include abdominal cramping, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. Antibiotics are the most common treatment.
All the food for the June wedding was prepared at the company's St. Henry facility, along with food for four other wedding receptions held at other locations that same day. No other illnesses were reported at any of the other weddings, Romer said.
Tests on all the staff members that worked at the Celina facility the day of the wedding were negative, Jansen confirmed. Testing was not done on the staff at the St. Henry facility, she said.   
To date, no one has been cleared from responsibility for the outbreak and the investigation is continuing with the help of state health officials, Jansen added. The next step may include securing a seating chart to help track the proximity of the guests who became sick, she explained.
But finding a source isn't Jansen's only focus.
"Our biggest goal is educate the public that shigella can be spread in a lot of different ways," she said. "Proper handwashing is the best way to keep something like this from happening. This has been a good lesson for a lot of people."
Jansen said she wants other food businesses to know the health department is available to help them when such a situation arises.
"We're not here to just point fingers," she added. "They need to call us right away."
In order to help with the investigation, wedding guests can fill out a questionnaire found on the local health department's Web site at mccchd.org or call 419-586-3251, ext. 278. More information on the illness also can be found at the site.
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