THE UNIVERSITY Health Service and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety acted irresponsibly and dangerously last week by neglecting to consider the possibility of food poisoning in an investigation of a mysterious illness which caused two people to be hospitalized and 21 treated, and showed all the symptoms of a disease transmitted through a central kitchen meal.
The sanitary engineer ran some tests on a few food samples out he was too late to check the actual food that might have done the damage. He asked a few questions about how the food was handled and was satisfied that everything and everyone in the kitchen was spic and span. And he ran a stool test on one stricken student and was pleased to find that there was no trace of anything embarrassing, except that the stool test could not reveal the embarrassing substances anyway.
So, without checking into exactly what all the stricken people ate, or even considering that an estimated one in every five persons from Eliot House, where the disease centered, actually bothered to report the illness, the engineer decided unobtrusively that some sort of wild-fire illness swooped down Sunday night on Eliot House, brushed the two adjacent Houses, and departed Monday after completing its gastric devastation.
Although the symptoms of the illness correlate more closely with staphylococcal food poisoning than viral gastroenteritis, the disease that the engineer decided upon even if it was a virus, it still could have been transmitted through the central kitchen.
A thorough investigation of all the cases involved, rather than the "too-late to tell" analysis that the health department provided, might have revealed whether the virus was in the school's food supply.
This engineer's easily-reached conclusion may be satisfying for the University's Environmental Health and Safety Department, but for those who had the illness, and for those who might get it in the future, the unrelated food-virus verdict is insufficient and dangerous.
And we probably won't know, at least until the next time this happens, what caused all those people to get sick at the same time last Monday. The University should undertake a new investigation. We can't stomach this one.