Parents and teachers across St. Joseph County are being urged to keep a close eye on a nasty bacterial infection.
Similar, but often times worse than the common stomach flu, the disease is called Shigellosis (made of Shigella bacteria) and it's terribly contagious. So much so, 25 people have contracted the illness in the last six weeks, most happen to be young children.
"It’s typically very uncommon. We usually have less than 20 cases a year that get reported to us, so this is a lot,” Dr. Thomas Felger with the St. Joseph County Health Department said.
The first reported case came on Aug. 8 at the Growing Kids Learning Center near the intersection of Douglas Rd. and State Rd. 23 in St. Joseph County. Since then, two other independent daycare centers and six schools within the South Bend Community School Corporation have had at least one student become ill (see list below).
"What happens is “Johnny” will get sick and “Johnny” goes home and sister “Mary” picks it up over a few days. Then sister “Mary” goes to an elementary school instead of daycare and then somehow “Ralph” picks it up,” Dr. Felger explained.
A spokesman for Growing Kids Learning Centers says its staff has been working tirelessly to eliminate the spread of Shigellosis, including working side-by-side with the local health officials.
“Our policies and procedures meet or exceed recommendations. The best defense is good hand washing and thorough sanitizing of bathrooms and food surface areas,” company president Michael Garatoni said in a written statement released to NewsCenter 16.
Shigellosis, which is more common during summer months, especially impacts children ages two-to-four. Symptoms include stomach cramps, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and at times, blood, mucus and pus in stool. In extreme cases hospitalization is required.
"It takes a very small amount of bacteria to infect someone. This is exactly why these kinds of diseases are reported to us,” Dr. Felger added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there is no vaccine currently on-the-market to prevent Shigellosis. Instead, the best form of defense: continually washing hands with warm water and soap.
"You may recall back in July, about 200 campers at Notre Dame became ill from the Norovirus. Although this is not that big of an outbreak, it is just as contagious, maybe even more so,” Dr. Felger said.
In effort to prevent further infection, follow these simple steps suggested by the C.D.C:
*Frequent and thorough hand-washing be practiced at all times, especially after using the restroom, changing diapers and before cooking.
*Supervise hand washing of toddlers and small children after they use the toilet.
*Disinfect diaper changing areas after use and properly dispose of soiled diapers.
*Keep children with diarrhea out of educational facilities and adults from the workplace.
*Do not prepare food or drinks for others while feeling ill.
If you or your child show any sign of intestinal illness, health officials urge you visit your primary care physician immediately. The St. Joseph County Health Department can facilitate stool samples, which is the only scientific means available to identify Shigellosis.
To schedule an appointment or for additional information, call (574) 235-9750
If you’d like to read a letter sent home with SBCSC students at the six schools impacted by Shigellosis, click on the document icon above this story.
St. Joseph County schools and daycare centers with confirmed cases of Shigellosis:
*Harrison Primary Center - 3302 W. Western Ave. – South Bend
*Wilson Primary Center - 56660 Oak Rd. – South Bend
*Jackson Intermediate School - 5001 Miami St. – South Bend
*Tarkington Traditional School - 3414 Hepler St. – South Bend
*Lincoln Primary Center - 1425 E. Calvert St. – South Bend
*Clay Intermediate Center - 52900 Lily Rd. – South Bend
*Louise's Child Care - 4118 W. Western Ave. – South Bend
*Growing Kids Learning Center - 17475 State Road 23 – South Bend
*Children’s Garden Daycare – Unknown address