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|01-28-03: Three more salmonella cases surface in Celina
|11 Celina pupils confirmed with the bacterial infection
By SHELLEY GRIESHOP
The Daily Standard
Three more Celina residents have been confirmed with salmonella
poisoning bringing the total number of local people infected with the illness to 15.
Nine of those who are ill or recovering from the bacterial infection
are students at East elementary school, which houses kindergarten through third-graders.
Sally Bowman, nursing director for the Mercer County Health Department,
said the new cases involve a student from East elementary and the child's parent, as well
as a student from Celina Middle School.
"One of the children is currently being treated at a local
hospital," Bowman said Monday.
So far, tests have confirmed the bacteria in 11 children and four
adults, including one adult from Auglaize County. The illness can only be confirmed by the
testing of stool samples.
Salmonella poisoning produces flu-like symptoms including severe
diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramping, and typically lasts longer than your
average 24-hour bug. The illness can lead quickly to dehydration. The bacteria can be
found in uncooked or undercooked foods such as eggs, meat and poultry, and can be spread
in a variety of ways including cross-contamination during food preparation.
Food can be contaminated, for example, by an infected food handler who
forgot to wash his or her hands after using the bathroom.
Although salmonella poisoning is rarely life threatening, it can take
several months before an infected person's bowel habits are entirely normal again. Also, a
small number of infected people develop Reiter's syndrome, which can lead to chronic
Celina's East school appears to be the link among 14 of the 15 people
who have been confirmed with the bacteria, although health officials locally and at the
state level are still puzzled at the source of the contamination. Samples from various
areas within East school including bathrooms and water fountains have been sent to the
state health department laboratory in Columbus.
Michelle Kimmel, director of environmental health in Mercer County,
said she recently completed a food history study of all those confirmed with salmonella,
recording everything they ate prior to getting sick. The percentages of those who ate in
the cafeteria at East elementary prior to becoming ill were quite small, she said.
Kimmel said officials have gone over food handling methods with
cafeteria workers and are more than satisfied with the staff's procedures. The vast
majority of food served in the cafeteria is precooked and no raw eggs are used, she said.
The only answer health officials have been able to provide so far is
that all the infected people have the same strain of bacteria. Random stool samples from
healthy faculty members at East were taken in the last few days and sent for analysis at
the state laboratory to further aid in the investigation.
"At this point, we're waiting to hear from the state. More test
results should arrive by the end of the week," Bowman said. "We may never know
the cause, we might never be able to find the common denominator."
The health department's investigation has been a "Catch 22"
of sorts. If there were more cases to study, it might be easier to find a trail back to
the source of the contamination. However, more cases means more sick people, and officials
at the health department and the school don't want that either.
Absenteeism at East elementary has climbed from 15 percent a week ago
to 17 percent Monday, according to school Principal Matt Miller. The East absences,
however, rate third behind other Celina school buildings: West elementary topped the
charts at 19.9 percent with 55 children missing classes, and the middle school ranked
second with 19.4 percent absent.
Although the symptoms for flu and salmonella are quite similar, school
officials believe most of the children have the flu. School Superintendent Fred Wiswell
spoke to a local doctor who said closing the school would likely not help the absenteeism
Celina teachers are reminding students to thoroughly wash their hands
especially after visits to the restroom. Maintenance workers also have beefed up
sanitizing measures throughout the school, Miller said.
The following is a breakdown of the 15 cases confirmed since Jan. 1:
- Four are adults - one is employed at East elementary, one is a parent
of an East elementary student who also contracted salmonella, and one is a St. Marys
resident who has a direct connection to East elementary. (Health officials in Auglaize
County refuse to say how the St. Marys resident is linked in order to protect the person's
identity.) The fourth adult is a Celina resident and the only case not linked to the
- The remaining 11 cases are all children - nine from East elementary
and one each from Celina's intermediate and middle schools. The intermediate and middle
school students got the infection from East elementary students, health officials said.
The first case to surface in Mercer County was an East elementary
student who became sick during the Christmas holiday, Bowman said. Test results came back
Jan. 1, before school was back in session, and confirmed the child was sick with
salmonella poisoning, she said. The majority of the remaining cases developed the week of
The salmonella bacteria can remain in the human body up to three
months, according to state health officials.
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