BEIJING, Sept. 7 — Experts have discovered the bacterium that caused a food poisoning outbreak at a school in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province that affected hundreds of children and teachers.

The bacterium has been identified as shigella sonnei, which causes dysentery, said Liu Jun, deputy chief of Chengdu Municipal Health Bureau, at a press conference yesterday.

The announcement of the cause of the outbreak, which occurred at Chongzhou City Experimental Primary School, 40 kilometres from Chengdu, follows complaints from parents that the local government was slow at giving out information.

Lab experiments showed that shigella sonnei was found in a sample of cold pork dressing that was served to pupils at the school last Friday, Liu said.

A total of 1,134 pupils and 140 faculty members had lunch in the school canteen on what was the first day of the new school year.

The next afternoon, some students and teachers showed symptoms of fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach ache and diarrhoea.

Several days after the event 606 students and teachers had been treated in various hospitals, Liu said.
But both the press and relatives of victims suspect that more people have come down with food poisoning resulting from shigella sonnei. Soon after learning about the food poisoning incident last Sunday, five reporters from Xinhua News Agency went to Chongzhou to cover the story.

The local government told them that only 45 pupils had been hospitalized because of food poisoning. But relatives of some pupils told them that the actual number might be between 700 and 800.

To verify the figure, they went to several local hospitals and found more than 300 pupils were being treated.

But when they asked relevant government departments and hospitals to verify the figure over the next two days, the latter either insisted there were only 45 victims or avoided answering the question.

Because of the government’s slow response, rumours spread in Chongzhou, many of which were unfounded, such as some pupils were dying. In fact, no deaths have been reported. The local government could have checked the spread of rumours if it had released timely information, but it kept silent, Xinhua said.

In January, the central government brought out regulations on the handling of such incidents.
It says timely and accurate information must be released to the public and no misinformation should be given.

Classes at the affected school have been suspended and will be resumed after more than two-thirds of the sick pupils recover, said Chen Gang, vice-mayor of Chongzhou.

Chen said that the cost of treating the sick pupils would be paid for by the local government.
(Source: China Daily)