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March 11, 2000

Sniffing out a bug Lab seeks source of school outbreak

By LAURA BOBAK -- Toronto Sun

Toronto public health officials will spend the weekend studying stool samples from hundreds of students as part of a probe into a suspected outbreak of food poisoning.

"It may be Monday before we get some answers," said Dr. Lori Kiefer, Toronto's associate medical officer of health, adding she and other health officials will be working through the weekend trying to locate the bug.

More than 300 kids from John Wanless school in north Toronto and Willowdale Middle School in North York were absent from school Thursday and yesterday, suffering from vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

"We don't have any organisms isolated yet," Kiefer said.

"People who have been ill within the last day, we'd like to get stool samples from."


She also said the large number of children absent from both schools yesterday could be partly due to kids taking an early March break.

Officials can't say why the outbreaks took place on the same day at two different schools.

"It's really unusual, so we're looking for links, but we haven't found anything," Kiefer said.

Health officials say food poisoning can kick in as early as several hours after eating infected food, or as long as several days to a week later.

Parent Michael Opara, who has three children at John Wanless school, said his 11-year-old daughter became ill Wednesday night and six-year-old son got sick Thursday morning.

"It wasn't thrilling. I'm relieved it's nothing else," Opara said.

Both children had eaten some pizza at the school Tuesday, supplied by a local pizzeria.

"There weren't many kids at school today," Opara said, adding the school janitor was kept busy Thursday cleaning up after sick children.

"The janitor had this long face. He was going around with the bucket," Opara said.

Also under investigation is cafeteria food at the Willowdale school.

"We had people who were affected who did not eat the food," said Nicole Boyko, the principal of Willowdale Middle School.

Kits to collect stool samples are available through the two schools, or today and tomorrow from Toronto public health at 416-690-2142.

-- (, March 11, 2000

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