Article abstract

Introduction: on 19 March 2017, an outbreak of unknown etiology was reported among students at a college in Lusaka, Zambia. We investigated to confirm the outbreak, identify exposures, determine the aetiological agent, and implement preventive measures.


Methods: we conducted an unmatched case-control study. Cases and controls were selected conveniently. A suspected case was diarrhea or abdominal pains in any student at College A and Controls were asymptomatic students at College A during 18-23 March. We interviewed cases and controls about exposures to suspected food and water and collected saved food samples and swabs from food-handlers' hands and kitchen surfaces for culture. We analyzed data using Epi-info v 7.2 (Atlanta, Georgia).


Results: we identified 59 suspected case-patients. Predominant symptoms were diarrhea (n = 51.83%) and abdominal pains (n = 44.75%). The outbreak started on 18 March, peaked on 19, and concluded on 20 March. We interviewed 30 case-patients and 71 controls. Exposures associated with increased odds of illness included eating food served at dinner on Saturday (18 March) in school cafeteria (OR = 5.8, 95% CI = 2.0-16.7); specifically, eating beans at Saturday dinner (OR = 21.6, 95% CI = 4.5-104) and drinking water supplied at school (OR = 8.8, 95% CI = 1.45-53.6). Samples from all food-handlers (n = 13) yielded Staphylococcus aureus and all food samples (n = 3) yielded Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and fecal coliforms.


Conclusion: the results suggest a foodborne outbreak caused by consumption of contaminated food served at dinner on 18 March at College A. We educated the food handlers and school management about the importance of disinfection of preparation surfaces, supervision of food handling and handwashing practices.