Thursday, July 9th, 2009
Disease linked to local party
Two hospitalized, dozens ill with shigellosis after Celina wedding reception
By Shelley Grieshop
Local health officials are investigating an outbreak of a food-borne disease that hospitalized two people and sickened nearly 100 others after a recent wedding reception in Celina.
Two guests at the wedding - from Auglaize and Butler counties - have been confirmed to have shigellosis, caused by the bacteria shigella, which must be swallowed in order to be infectious. It is an "oral-fecal" disease and typically occurs when basic hygiene and handwashing habits are inadequate.
The local health department reported between 70 and 100 others got sick after the wedding at Romer's Entertainment Facility in Celina on June 27. The most seriously ill victim to date has recovered.
Catering staff, guests and food from the party have been tested and officials are awaiting results from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
Shigellosis can spread quickly so officials have worked diligently to contact those who may have been exposed. Symptoms typically begin one to two days after exposure and can last five to seven days. They include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting.
Joyce Jansen, director of nursing and communicable diseases at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, said her immediate goals are to pinpoint the source and educate the general public about the illness. She would not release the names of the bride and groom.
"This is a very contagious disease," she said. "We could see cases of this for a long time."
Shigella infections may be acquired from eating contaminated food or by drinking or swimming in contaminated water. Vegetables can become contaminated if they are harvested from a field with sewage in it. Also, flies can breed in infected feces and subsequently contaminate food.
The owners of Romer's and their staff have cooperated fully with the investigation, Jansen said. The health department has never had a problem with the business and inspection records show they follow strict food handling policies at all their facilities, Jansen said.
Owners Neil, Karen and Jason Romer issued a statement to The Daily Standard concerning the recent incident. They said they are "deeply concerned about the welfare of all their guests" and apologize to the families affected. They said their facility in St. Henry, where the food was prepared, "was cleared of any responsibility related to the incident by the health department."
Jansen said the procedures the Romer family said they used were deemed efficient, however, nothing has yet been ruled out in the investigation.
The Romer family also claims the cause of the bacteria has been isolated to the Celina facility through one of their guests or staff members who brought it in and spread it to others. They also state that none of their employees who worked that evening have shown symptoms of the illness before, during or after the event and all are currently awaiting test results.
The Romer family said they've "thoroughly sanitized our Celina facility" and have hosted several events since without reported illnesses.
Jansen said shigella cases are generally rare in the Grand Lake area, which is why she wants to educate the public.
She fears some of the people exposed at the wedding may work in such fields as healthcare or daycare and may have innocently spread the bacteria to numerous others. Approximately 400 people reportedly attended the June wedding.
The disease is not airborne, so Jansen stressed the spread of shigella can be stopped by frequent and careful handwashing with soap and water.
Some infected people remain symptom-free but can still pass the shigella bacteria to others. Those who have the illness can be infectious to others for up to a month, even if they no longer have symptoms, Jansen explained.
Severe cases of shigellosis can be treated with antibiotics. People with mild infections usually recover quickly without antibiotic treatment. The young, elderly and those with chronic health conditions are at the highest risk. Certain anti-diarrheals can make the illness worse.
About the disease:
Approximately 300,000 cases of shigellosis occur each year in the U.S. after people ingest food that is infected with the shigella bacteria. Of those infected, some people exhibit only mild symptoms - typically diarrhea - and others have no symptoms at all.
The shigella germs are often spread by people who do not wash their hands properly after using the toilet or changing a diaper. People who get the germs on their hands can infect themselves by eating, smoking or touching their mouths.
Salads such as potato, tuna, shrimp, macaroni and chicken, as well as raw vegetables, milk and dairy products and poultry can carry shigella. Water contaminated with human waste and unsanitary handling by food handlers are the most common causes of contamination.
The disease is confirmed by stool samples and serious cases are treated with antibiotics. Severe cases can arise in the very young or old and those with chronic illnesses.
Anyone with concerns or questions about the recent local outbreak of the infectious disease shigellosis is asked to contact the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department at 419-586-325 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their Web site at www.mccchd.org. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also has information on the highly-contagious illness at www.cdc.org.
- Shelley Grieshop