Health Department Investigates Illness

PLAINVIEW - The Plainview and Hale County Health Department is investigating an outbreak of illness on the Wayland Baptist University campus.

Dr. Bryan Peeler, Medical Authority for the health department, contacted Environmental Health Inspector Jack McCasland Thursday morning after 26 students visited the emergency room Wednesday evening with symptoms of vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. McCasland said physicians are required to contact the health department if there is a possibility of food poisoning.

McCasland began his investigation around 10 a.m. Thursday morning, interviewing students in the Wayland cafeteria. McCasland interviewed a random sample of students, including those who reported symptoms and those who have suffered no illness.

"That way I get some controls," McCasland said. "Right now we have those who didn't get sick that ate the same things as those who did get sick."

McCasland said the timelines have also varied from students who reported symptoms as many as 72 hours earlier.

"We have some who got sick on Tuesday and others are still getting sick today," he said.

McCasland said it is too early to know for sure whether the illness was caused by food poisoning or a viral infection. The lab results may be available Friday afternoon. The lab tests will determine whether or not the illness was caused by a food-borne pathogen. McCasland was not sure if the lab is testing for other causes but said, "We could be looking at a viral situation instead."

If that is the case, McCasland said he would report it to the state health department to determine if the situation requires further investigation.

Wayland is taking every precaution concerning the health of the students. The administration requested that the cafeteria serve a cold meal at noon Thursday. Normal cafeteria service resumed Thursday evening.

McCasland and WBU officials said the investigation is currently focusing on maintaining a healthy environment for the students.

"We are cooperating with the health inspector in our effort to determine the nature of the illness," said Wayland Vice President Dr. Claude Lusk. "Our primary concern is maintaining a safe environment for the students and taking care of them."

Wayland's food service is contracted through Sodexho Services, which operates the cafeteria. McCasland performed a routine inspection on April 8, 2003. Sodexho scored an 84 with no critical violations such as temperature control. A previous inspection in September of 2002 netted a score of 93.