By ANITA MILLER, News Editor
San Marcos Daily Record
Efforts to stem an increasing number of cases of the intestinal malady shigellosis in local public schools seem to have paid off, according to a county health official.
Kristy Phillips, coordinator for tuberculosis and communicable disease for the Hays County Personal Health Department, said new cases have trickled down to one or two a day, when at the peak of the outbreak there were “anywhere from five to 10” daily.
As of Thursday, Phillips said there have been a grand total of 206 cases of shigellosis, which is caused by the shigella bacteria which is spread by hand to mouth contact with fecal material.
Of those, 133 cases involved students in the San Marcos CISD, primarily elementary-school aged. Another 26 were in Hays CISD students and the remaining 47 “have been everything from adults to kids that aren’t in school yet,” Phillips said. “Pretty much all of them have been linked to a school-related case.”
She said there have been a few cases at local daycares, but credited their stepped-up efforts to monitor handwashing and rigorously disinfect bathroom areas for keeping most young children healthy.
She noted that public schools and daycares adopted the stricter hygiene practices once the cases began to appear in late September and early October.
“They seemed to be able to get it controlled pretty quick.”
Signs and symptoms of shigellosis include diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. It is easily controlled with antibiotics; however, infected persons can still spread the disease even after their symptoms have disappeared, and even after they have completed a course of antibiotics.
If untreated, the bacteria can remain in the intestinal tract for months. Shigellosis is rarely fatal in the United States, according to the Texas Department of Health; but it can be serious. Phillips said some local cases progressed to the point they had to be treated for dehydration due to the severe diarrhea.
Because the bacteria can stick around, infected children were barred from returning to class “until they have completed seven days of antibiotic treatment and/or have a negative stool culture.”
She said one factor in the decrease of cases appears to have been the Thanksgiving holiday. Although the Centers for Disease Control says the incubation period can be anywhere from one to seven days, Phillips said it often appears in one to four days, so the long Thanksgiving holiday was sufficient to interrupt its spread.
“Anytime you can get a break and get those kids separated you aren’t infecting those that haven’t been infected yet.” She said she “saw what she was hoping to” after the break. “After Christmas, I hope it will be gone.”