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Health officials looking for cause of strep at school

March 02, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA.

Jefferson County and West Virginia health department officials are investigating what caused about one-third of C.W. Shipley Elementary School students to be diagnosed with strep throat within two months.

Since Jan. 3, 144 students have been diagnosed with strep throat - a bacterial infection most common in young children and teenagers, according to the health department.

Steven Nichols, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, said school officials have taken precautions to disinfect the buildings.

"The problem we seem to have is that children go out with (strep throat) and return to school too soon," he said. "It just keeps recycling the germs."

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Some of the children, Nichols said, have been diagnosed with the infection more than once.

The health department said people typically catch strep throat during winter months or early spring. Symptoms include a sudden onset of sore throat, severe pain when swallowing and fever. Symptoms may also include a headache, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

The disease spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks and sends the virus through the air. Strep throat is considered highly contagious.

Officials said they are working to determine what caused the outbreak. They will not be able to narrow the source to a particular student, but will be looking at some medical information to determine how the illness reached so many in the elementary school, Nichols said.

"We can track to a particular situation," he said. "If they are all on the same bus, or if they play together in the afternoon. Why is it continually reinfecting?"

Nichols said elementary school children have many opportunities throughout the day to come in contact with each other. They share water fountains, pencil sharpeners, crayons and other supplies.

School officials have banned students from using water fountains. Nichols said they are using cups for water instead.

He said officials also have ensured that the cafeteria staff are not infected. Teachers and custodial staff are disinfecting desks, door knobs and bathroom fixtures.

"All of our schools are crowded, so there are more opportunities for kids to spread germs," Nichols said. "We're checking air filters, using disinfectant wipes and sprays. Unfortunately, illness has to run its course."

Nichols said he does not believe any of the school's teachers have been diagnosed.

The spread of the illness has caused some students to fall behind, he said. Students who are out of class sick for a prolonged period have to make up work they missed. Nichols said teachers are spending time reviewing for students who have missed classes.

"The school system has taken it very seriously and is working with the health department," Nichols said. "We want (the students) to be well and in school."




The following precautions are recommended by the Jefferson County Health Department:

At School:

  • Any student suspected of having strep throat or who has the symptoms should not attend school.

  • All students should wash their hands several times each day using soap and warm water.

  • Students should cover their mouths when coughing and use a tissue when sneezing or blowing their nose.



At Home:

  • If antibiotics are prescribed by a doctor, follow the directions exactly and take all medication.

  • Do not return to school until no fever has been detected for at least 48 hours or until prescribed medication has been taken for at least 48 hours.

  • A new toothbrush should be used after 48 hours on medication to prevent reinfection.
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