- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

University of Maryland officials quarantined a residence hall at the College Park campus, as Prince George’s County health officials yesterday tried to find out why about 100 high school students and five staff members became sick over the weekend.

University spokesman George Cathcart said campus officials plan to disinfect all nonporous surfaces today at LaPlata Hall, where the students stayed.

Public areas, such as elevators, were cleaned yesterday.

Food poisoning is suspected, but health workers took samples from LaPlata Hall to test for other bacterial causes, Mr. Cathcart said.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about food poisoning and that is still speculation at this point,” Mr. Cathcart said.

Officials with the Prince George’s County Health Department said it could take awhile to determine the cause of the outbreak because of the “large range of things that this could be linked to.”

“Health Department staff members are working diligently within the investigatory process to determine the cause of the illness,” Prince George’s County Health Officer Frederick J. Corder said.

“This includes conducting detailed, in-depth interviews with students and staff pertaining to the type and kind of food or drink they consumed and activities they may have participated in, carrying out environmental inspections of the food service facilities, collecting food samples and maintaining patient tracking with hospitals,” Mr. Corder said.

About 400 high school students were attending a conference on health care organized by the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) over the weekend.

On Saturday, about 100 students and five staff members began complaining of nausea and other gastrointestinal problems.

A majority of those sickened were taken Sunday to four hospitals in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Seven persons were admitted for treatment and observation and were in stable condition, county health officials said.

NSLC officials said the 400 students were split into two groups.

The students who became sick were in one group, yet others in the same group did not become ill, organizers said. The other group of students was not affected, county health officials said.

All of the students ate boxed lunches at a university dining hall and took a trip to Baltimore before they felt ill.

Mr. Cathcart said university officials were not immediately informed of the problem.

“When this outbreak occurred, the NSLC decided to take matters into their own hands and they provided a lot of the transportation themselves in private vehicles to local hospitals,” he said. “We still don’t know exactly how many people were taken ill.”

The NSLC disagreed. “The university was aware as the kids got sick and we proceeded according to our procedures for sick students,” said Mike Simms of the NSLC.

Mr. Cathcart said students were allowed to retrieve their belongings from LaPlata Hall last night and move them to the halls where they are staying until the conference concludes on Thursday.

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