Health officials: Handful got sick at conference

TV reports of ‘dozens’ falling ill unconfirmed

Dori Burke, Boone County’s forensic specialist who helps do autopsies for a number of Mid-Missouri counties, remained in the hospital Friday night as doctors tried to determine what kind of illness caused her to get sick and seek emergency room assistance.

She was one of four people attending the Missouri Coroners’ and Medical Examiners’ Association spring conference, at Jefferson City’s Truman Hotel and Convention Center, who left the conference to be seen by Capital Region Medical Center’s emergency room.

Cole County and state health officials said Friday they are investigating possible links among the four, who went to Capital Region Medical Center’s emergency room this week “for a variety of respiratory symptoms.”

But Cole County Health Director Marie Peoples said Thursday night there did not seem to be any direct connection for the four getting sick at the same conference, nor any direct connection with the hotel.

Still, she said Friday, in an e-mail: “Nothing has been ruled out — because nothing has been ruled in.

“The investigation is not complete — but thus far (we’ve seen) no risk factors or clear things that caused illness. We have looked for mold, looked at air flow delivery systems, and nothing has been found.”

Peoples said in a news release that the county’s “disease investigation and environmental public health specialists have worked collaboratively” with the state Health and Senior Services department and hotel staff members to conduct “on-site inspections” at the hotel.

Lisa Steiner, the hotel’s general manager, told the News Tribune on Friday afternoon: “If there was anything that was happening here, obviously we wanted to find it.

“So, we are very happy that, cooperating fully with the health department, they inspected rooms and meeting rooms — and there were a couple of minor things that we fixed immediately, so they were no longer issues.”

Those repairs included re-sealing a window in one meeting room, and replacing a ceiling tile — and neither “problem” has been connected to anyone getting sick.

Broadcast and online reports Thursday night and Friday said “dozens” of people attending the MCMEA conference had fallen ill, but Peoples said she couldn’t confirm that number.

“If they were sick, they did not go to the emergency room and have not contacted the health department,” she said.

Steiner said: “Only the coroners were affected.

“We had other groups staying in the hotel, but it was only that particular group, that we know of, that reported any illnesses.”

She said the MCMEA members stayed in rooms throughout the hotel complex, but “they had a hospitality room where they would all congregate in the evening ... for those three nights.”

R. Eddie Wilson of Salem, the association’s executive director, said Friday he was sick before he came to the conference, which began Tuesday and ended Thursday.

“I basically stayed in my room,” he explained. “I had the sign-in sheets and the certificates, and I had to get the meeting under way.

“Then I went back to my room, and Wednesday I came home.”

He said some of the coroners association members told him Friday they “got sick after they got home. They started feeling bad on their drive (home), and then they got sick.”

Steiner said that, as the Elks were checking-in for their convention at the end of the week, they were told of the illnesses reported among the coroners and medical examiners, and given the option to stay elsewhere.

“They all chose to stay (here),” she said. “They’ve been coming here for 40 years.”

In her news release, Peoples also noted: “The current pollen count is high and seasonal cold is still common.

“If people are experiencing allergy and cold-related symptoms, they should schedule an appointment with their primary care physician.”

Wilson said his symptoms were similar to those described by many others early this year, a stuffy head and clogged sinuses.

He was feeling better Friday afternoon.

“I think it’s this year’s ‘creeping crud,’” he said.

Earlier coverage, posted at 2:43 p.m. Friday:

Cole County and state health officials are investigating possible links among four people who went to Capital Region Medical Center’s emergency room this week “for a variety of respiratory symptoms” that occurred while they were at the Truman Hotel and Conference Center.

County Health Director Marie Peoples said today in a news release, that “on-site inspections at the (hotel) are ongoing,” and that the county’s “disease investigation and environmental public health specialists have worked collaboratively” with the state Health and Senior Services department and hotel staff members.

Broadcast reports Thursday night and Friday said “dozens” of people attending the Missouri Coroners’ and Medical Examiners’ Association’s spring conference had fallen ill, but Peoples’ news release doesn’t confirm that number.

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