February 4, 2006
The Bellingham Herald
An outbreak of shigellosis, an infectious disease that usually causes diarrhea and a fever and is transmitted through contaminated food or water, has forced the postponement of today’s Class 2A District Wrestling Tournament.
The tournament, which will still be held at Blaine High School, will be made up Wednesday, with weigh-ins scheduled for 9 a.m. and action beginning at 11 a.m.
“We want to err on the side of caution,” Blaine athletic director Gary Claussen said in a phone interview. “We want to be as safe as we can by postponing it a few days.”
The announcement came six days after last week’s Whatcom County League sub-district, which was held Jan. 28 at Nooksack Valley. At least 14 wrestlers from Blaine, Meridian, Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley, three assistant coaches, two referees and one other adult who participated in the sub-district tournament have shown symptoms of shigellosis, Claussen said.
Buffi LaDue, manager for disease response control for the Whatcom County Health Department, said only two cases of shigellosis have been confirmed so far and the department is investigating other cases.
Shigellosis is caused by the shigella bacteria and generally passes from one person to the next through stool or soiled fingers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. The best way to prevent spread of the disease is good hygiene.
Infected people usually develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps within a day or two of exposure. Shigellosis usually resolves within five to seven days, but in some cases, including in small children or the elderly, the diarrhea can be severe enough for hospitalization. Shigellosis can be treated with antibiotics, according to the CDC Web site.
LaDue said the health department is still investigating the exact cause of the outbreak.
“We don’t know what the cause was yet,” LaDue said in a phone interview. “It could be from food that was served at the tournament or something like that.”
LaDue expects the investigation to be completed by Monday.
The decision to postpone today’s tournament was made by tournament organizers and the participating schools.
Even with the delay, LaDue warns that secondary infection could occur.
“What we recommend is that they tell the coaches and players that if any player still has symptoms that they not be allowed to wrestle,” LaDue said.
LaDue also recommends good hygiene, including washing hands after using the restroom and before handling food, to prevent further spread of the bacteria.
Despite this recent outbreak, many area schools have increased their efforts to reduce the spread of diseases in all sports, particularly in wrestling.
“The last few years we have put a lot of money and effort into protecting our kids from something like this,” Claussen said. “We clean the mat before and after (wrestlers compete or practice), but that mainly protects against staph and ringworm. We’ve even given the kids sprays, so they can disinfect their entire body.
“But this is a different situation. From it, we’re instituting new steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This has been a learning experience for all of us.”
LaDue was not sure if the shigella bacteria has been spread at other wrestling tournaments.
“I know there have been some other outbreaks in the state, but I don’t know if it is associated with wrestling,” she said. “The fact that it happened at a wrestling tournament could be coincidental.”
Regardless, Claussen said he and other area athletic directors do not want to take a risk, and that’s why they decided to postpone the district tournament.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of something like this, and I’ve been here a long time,” Claussen said.
The decision to hold the tournament during the school day on Wednesday was made to help reduce the amount of class time lost and travel expenses. If the tournament were spread over two nights, students would miss all or parts of two days and travel costs would be doubled.
The tournament must be held before the Feb. 11 Class 2A Regional Tournament, which will be held at Mountlake Terrace. The top four wrestlers from each weight class at the district tournament advance to the regional tournament.
In addition to the four Whatcom County schools, schools from the Cascade Conference will compete in the district tournament.