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01-23-03: Salmonella, flu attack local pupils
The Daily Standard
    Six more cases of salmonella poisoning were confirmed Wednesday in Mercer County bringing the total number of people afflicted recently to 11.
    But what's more disturbing, and somewhat confusing to local officials, is that eight of those who have tested positive for the bacterial infection are children from Celina's East Elementary School. One of the newest casesis an adult who is employed at the school but does not work in the cafeteria area.
    "The adult (with salmonella poisoning) does not work in food prep (preparation) or any other type of cafeteria position," East elementary Principal Matt Miller told The Daily Standard this morning. He declined to give the adult's position at the school.
    Miller said the school staff is cooperating fully with the local health department's investigation and hopes to find an answer to the mysterious outbreak soon.
    "If (the source) is us, we want to know. We want to find out where it's coming from and get it taken care of," Miller said.
    Miller said custodians have beefed up sanitizing measures and teachers are reminding students to wash their hands frequently.
    Mercer County Nursing Director Sally Bowman said the investigation into the source of the salmonella cases is ongoing. County health officials recently visited East elementary to check out possible sources of contamination and take food samples from the cafeteria. Test results are still pending, Bowman said this morning.
    "We are investigating every avenue possible right now," she added. "There are so many illnesses going around right now, some people may have salmonella and think it is the flu."
    Symptoms of salmonella poisoning are similar to the influenza virus: diarrhea, vomiting and fever are all associated with salmonella poisoning. But salmonella infections typically last longer and can be more severe causing dehydration especially in young children. The illness can be spread by a variety of ways including improper handling   foods or animals or cross-contamination of foods.
    Bowman said five of the 11 people confirmed with salmonella in the last two weeks were hospitalized to treat dehydration. None were critically ill and all are recovering, she said.
    Last week, four Celina children - three from East elementary and one from Celina intermediate - tested positive for the salmonella bug. Two of the children were siblings. One adult, not a parent of any of the afflicted children, also was confirmed with the illness last week.
    None of the children in the most recent cases are siblings and the adult infected is not a parent of any of the sick students, Bowman said.
    Early this morning, the Auglaize County Health Department received confirmation of salmonella poisoning involving a St. Marys adult. The agency is investigating a possible link between the adult and the cases in Celina, said nursing director Cindy Jones. No other details of the case were available at press time.
    Bowman said she normally wouldn't advise people to get tested for salmonella, but due to unusual circumstances at East elementary, she said it wouldn't be a bad idea for parents to consult their family doctors if their child has suffered a recent prolonged illness.
    Bowman also reminds the public that flu shots are still available for anyone over 6 months old and healthy. Walk-ins are welcome from 10-5:30 p.m. Thursdays and by appointment Mondays through Fridays by calling 419-586-3251.
    East elementary, like many other schools in the area, also has been hard hit with the flu virus. Miller said the school absences rose to 18 percent on Tuesday; Wednesday's figures thankfully dropped to 14 percent.
    Normal absentee figures for most schools is 3 percent.
    Celina City Schools Superintendent Fred Wiswell said the city school district averaged 11.3 percent absenteeism Wednesday.
    "This has been our worst week by far," Wiswell said. "We started out the day (Wednesday) with only 10 percent, but kids just kept going home all day long."
    "If the numbers started to approach 15 percent, we would have brought together the staff, the health department and our nurse and discussed what options we have," Wiswell said.
    Other schools in the Grand Lake St. Marys area also reported high numbers of absent students this week due to flu, chicken pox, strep throat and mononucleosis. St. Henry and Parkway schools both reported about 10 percent of their students missing on Wednesday due to influenza of some type.
    Marion Local Schools Superintendent Andrew Smith said 160 of the district's 1,005 students were absent on Tuesday. Smith said he thought the past three-day weekend would help curb the absences, but apparently the extra rest day didn't make a difference, he said.
    Minster Local Schools also reported a higher than normal rate of illnesses. School officials there said 86 of their 627 elementary students missed classes Tuesday, but numbers have rebounded since. New Bremen schools also reported higher than average numbers, but nothing like they experienced the week before Christmas break.
    "I had six kids in the office vomiting at the same time that week and their moms were all out Christmas shopping," said school nurse Jeanie Langenkamp. "I don't want to go through that again."
    All the local schools contacted this morning said there is no specific number or percent of absenteeism that would close their schools. Each situation would be looked at on its own merits, they said.


Phone: (419)586-2371,   Fax: (419)586-6271
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P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822