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Lab tests have found no evidence that tainted food made dozens of students sick last week. It's looking less and less like food poisoning. Preliminary results from laboratory tests of stool samples from students who fell victim to a mysterious illness last week have turned up no evidence of bacterial contamination, Penn and city officials said Friday. The news further dispels any notion that tainted food from University dining halls was to blame for the maladies that sent more than 80 Penn students to seek medical treatment since last Tuesday night. Originally, many students and doctors suspected that the illness -- which caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fevers -- was the result of food poisoning, though Penn officials have maintained since Wednesday that the sicknesses were likely the work of an influenza-like virus. Although Friday's results do not definitively eliminate the possibility of food poisoning and because of the tests' nature cannot establish a virus as the culprit, they do provide considerable hard evidence that Penn dining-hall fare -- whether a single item or many different items -- was not culpable for the illness. The University is continuing lab tests this week on stool samples. "It really looks like it is more of a flu-like illness," Director of Student Health MarJeanne Collins said Friday. Also, all tests performed by city public-health officials have so far turned up no evidence of bacteria, Philadelphia Health Department spokesperson Jeff Moran said Friday. City officials are continuing to investigate. The possibility that a contaminated water supply caused the illnesses is "very unlikely," Collins said. Penn health officials were still not sure Friday whether they will pursue the more costly tests to determine whether it was an actual virus that caused the maladies. About 16 students had sought treatment at Student Health Services on Friday through about 4 p.m., Collins said, bringing the total number of victims to about 80. Many of the students had not eaten at Penn Dining, and non-student area residents had reported similar illnesses last week. Yesterday doctors at Student Health said several more students had come in over the weekend reporting similar symptoms, though an exact number was not immediately available, and it was not clear whether the students were suffering from the same illness. Collins stressed that anyone who worried that bacteria had infested the food at Hill College House, Stouffer Dining Commons and Class of 1920 Commons should not consider canceling their meal plans or staying away from the dining halls. "It's important that people are aware that Dining Services has not been implicated," Collins said. She added that officials are investigating the possibility that area vendors or restaurants may have served tainted food over the past week. Last week's outbreak was unusual in the number of students who were struck so suddenly, according to Collins. But in terms of how many students were actually afflicted, the illness so far has fallen far short of a typical annual flu bug. "When we get a flu outbreak we'll see 300 students," Collins said. Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer Ben Geldon contributed to this report.

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