Infectious diarrhea trots into local schools, daycares

by michelle t. bernard

Children in Newton and other areas of Catawba County have recently been becoming ill with infectious diarrhea. Some of these illnesses have been caused by laboratory-confirmed Shigella, a highly infectious bacterium that can cause severe diarrhea, according to a press release from Catawba County Public Health.
There have been two confirmed cases in Newton-Conover Schools, several more have been confirmed in day cares across Catawba County.
“The facilities department is following sanitation guidelines provided by Scott Carpenter, Catawba County Environmental Health Supervisor, to ensure that all surfaces are thoroughly sanitized and the bacteria is not spread,” said Newton-Conover City Schools Public Information Officer Jamie Frye in an e-mail.
Catawba County Schools have not seen any confirmed cases of Shigella according to Catawba County Schools Interim Superintendent Dan Moore.
“We follow all directives with regard to student health from the Catawba County Health Department,” said Moore during a telephone conversation. “We are not aware of any incidents of this illness at our schools and we are doing all we can to keep our kids safe and healthy.”
There has been a considerable increase in cases of infectious diarrhea caused by Shigella, according to Catawba County Public Health Community Engagement Specialist Emily Killian.
“All total last year we had one case, this year already we seen a total 50,” said Killian.
Killian explains that people have diarrhea for various reasons – some of this is because of Shigella but we don’t know it because they haven’t been tested. Generally, what happens is one person will get tested and if the test comes back positive it becomes a state-reportable disease and the lab will send the results to the public health department.
“Once we receive those results we look at that person’s contacts,” she sad. “We also look to see if that person goes to a child care, a school, or other group settings. When we start looking at that – we look at everyone else in that classroom or daycare to see if they’ve been sick. Once you get that case others tend to crop up mostly because they are testing for it.”
Catawba County Public Health is asking the public to be vigilant about using thorough hand washing and disinfection, especially in homes with children. Parents are also asked to keep sick children at home from school or child care, especially if they have diarrhea.
“Frequent, thorough hand washing with soap and water is the most important thing families can do to prevent the spread of disease. This is true for many diseases that make the rounds this time of year, especially among children,” said Doug Urland, Director of Catawba County Public Health in the press release.
Killian recommends that hand washing should be performed at key times, such as after going to the bathroom, before preparing meals and before eating, and after changing a diaper.
Catawba County Public Health is working with child care providers and schools, along with physicians and state epidemiological experts to stop the spread in the community, according to Killian. Because it is highly contagious in school and child care settings, state leaders work with the local health department to assist with prompt intervention measures, which may help prevent the spread of Shigella to others. This uptick is similar to what is being seen in several other counties across the state.
“It’s not that they weren’t doing a good job before,” Killian said. “We just want them to step it up an additional step because how easily spread this disease is.”
Shigella is considered highly infectious because it takes roughly 200 organisms to make someone ill which is a very low amount, according to Killian. That’s going to be smaller than the tip of a pen. Typically, you can’t see it.
“A person can continue to be infectious even after they start feeling better,” she said. “So that adds to it.”
Symptoms of Shigella include fever, abdominal cramps, chills, headache, body aches or diarrhea, according to the press release. It is important for parents, caregivers and educators to watch for potential symptoms in children and in other people in the home. Anyone with symptoms should stay home from school, child care and out of other group settings, and should not go to work, especially if they are in foodservice or healthcare settings. For kindergarten-age and younger children, it is recommended that parents take children with symptoms to their medical provider for evaluation and possible testing. Older children may return to school 48 hours after symptoms resolve.
As with other diseases, disinfection in the home can help stop the spread of illness among family members.
If you have questions, please contact your primary care provider or call Catawba County Public Health at (828) 695-5800. We have trained nurses who will be available to answer your questions.