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Throat swabs might yield clue to what sickened school

March 08, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA.

Officials have administered throat swabs to about 30 students at C.W. Shipley Elementary School in an attempt to get a better idea what has sickened about 144 children there since January, a Jefferson County Health Department official said Tuesday.

Officials from the state, the local health department and Jefferson County Schools are expected to have a conference telephone call today to discuss the results, said Judi Rice, a sanitarian with the health department.

"There's hopefully going to be a course of action based on those results," Rice said.

Officials said last week that the 144 students had strep throat, a bacterial infection most common in young children and teenagers.

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If the throat swabs taken confirm that the problem is strep, the results will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to get a better idea what strain of strep it is, Rice said.

Rice said there is a possibility that the problem could be attributed to something else, like a flu-like illness.

"There's thousands of different things it could be," Rice said.

Rice said the throat swabs were sent to the state Health Department in Charleston, W.Va., last week.

Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said Tuesday that strep and flu have been spreading in other schools in the county, which is typical this time of year.

Nichols said he thinks part of the problem is that parents are sending sick children back to school too early.

Nichols said he did not know if the number of sick children at C.W. Shipley had increased or decreased since last week.

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 also might include a headache, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

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

Nichols said last week that 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.

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