oswego: Outbreak of Gastrointestinal Illness in Oswego County, 1940

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On April 19, 1940, the local health officer in the village of Lycoming, Oswego County, New York, reported the occurrence of an outbreak of acute gastrointestinal illness to the District Health Officer in Syracuse. Dr. A. M. Rubin, epidemiologist-in-training, was assigned to conduct an investigation.

When Dr. Rubin arrived in the field, he learned from the health officer that all persons known to be ill had attended a church supper held on the previous evening, April 18. Family members who did not attend the church supper did not become ill. Accordingly, Dr. Rubin focused the investigation on the supper. He completed Interviews with 75 of the 80 persons known to have attended, collecting information about the occurrence and time of onset of symptoms, and foods consumed. Of the 75 persons interviewed, 46 persons reported gastrointestinal illness.

The onset of illness in all cases was acute, characterized chiefly by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. None of the ill persons reported having an elevated temperature; all recovered within 24 to 30 hours. Approximately 20 physicians. No fecal specimens were obtained for bacteriologic examination.

The supper was held in the basement of the village church. Foods were contributed by numerous members of the congregation. The supper began at 6:00 p.m. and continued until 11:00 p.m. Food was spread out on a table and consumed over a period of several hours. Data regarding onset of illness and food eaten or water drunk by each of the 75 persons interviewed are provided in the attached line listing (Oswego dataset). The approximate time of eating supper was collected for only about half the persons who had gastrointestinal illness.





Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Epidemic Intelligence Service


Oswego: An Outbreak of Gastrointestinal Illness Following a Church Supper (updated 2003): S. aureus outbreak among church picnic attendees, 1940; the classic, straightforward outbreak investigation in a defined population. Training modules available at https://www.cdc.gov/eis/casestudies/xoswego.401-303.student.pdf.

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