Mystery Outbreak Forces Over 150 Students From KS Schools – Officials Want Stool Samples
MANHATTAN, KS – Unbeknownst to most of the world, trouble is brewing in a Kansas town as a mystery illness rips through some local systems, having struck down over 150 high-school students since mid-August. That is a number creeping toward 20% of the 1,000 students at Manhattan High School’s West Campus.
What started out as a rash of gastrointestinal sicknesses in Manhattan High School, has now spread to the middle and elementary schools, causing record absences.
Symptoms include the necessity to go home due to stomach issues like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. At first, officials thought it was norovirus (highly contagious stomach flu). Indeed, the media reports and officials were certain it was norovirus and a major outbreak had practically downed a Nevada school last year. However, as the sickness continues, this idea has been abandoned even though it spreads in a similar manner.
Additionally, some of the symptoms are not consistent among all the students. For instance, the middle and elementary students began contracting the sickness, but unlike the high schoolers, they are reporting fever as well. Last Friday, the high school principal issued a desperate plea for the sick students to provide stool samples to the health department.
In the early days of the sickness, food poisoning was also suspected. Although multiple cafeteria violations were found, they could not cause an ongoing sickness of this magnitude.
As of September 7th, stool samples were collected, but this did not bring anyone closer to any answers.
Officials Beg For Stool Samples, But…
Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Riley County Health Department (RCHD) did obtain fecal samples from sick students; however, they are not revealing how many they received and are continuing to ask for more samples. They say the investigation of this size is difficult. The school has emailed a detailed questionnaire to students to gather extensive symptom information.
Although there were two samples containing evidence of E. coli sickness, they don’t believe it is related to the outbreak. E. coli typically causes diarrhea in younger children, yet this doesn’t line up with the greater symptom picture.
KSNT News also reports that all the schools affected and 40 schools buses were thoroughly sanitized in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
Desperate is an accurate term for the plea to contain the illness. Of course the faculty and staff care about the students’ wellbeing, but any school administrator knows that absences in these numbers severely affects funding for the following year. It is for this reason that truancy officers are sent out – sometimes even when the family has valid medical excuse. In this case, students were encouraged to stay home for 24 hours after symptoms subsided and to wash hands.
But that should be the last thing on administrators’ minds at this point. What is this outbreak ripping through the schools – what is the sickness and why can it not be identified by modern equipment after one whole month? Where did it come from and what are the long-term implications for the health of the students and for protocol, if any? The news reports are getting eerily close to dubbing it “The Manhattan Illness” and that title has other bizarre connotations.
Obviously, many students having to congregate in enclosed spaces doesn’t easily stop a contagion. Mystery illnesses have swept through schools before, but often they are quickly forgotten and no one really knows when or if there are follow-ups. Given that new protocols by the CDC are now up for public comment – protocols that include detainment of American citizens according to the Federal Register – it will be noteworthy to see how this situation is handled and resolved.
The latest scoop is that stool samples are still being asked for and the investigation continues.
We will keep you posted if there are any more major developments – what do think of these developments so far?
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