The Pettis County Health Center has received reports that a gastrointestinal illness is spreading throughout the county, causing a local school district to cancel classes.
PCHC Administrator JoAnn Martin said the health center has received multiple reports of a “standard” illness characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
“It’s safe to say various parts of our community are experiencing an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness and it’s always a prudent event for people to stay home, remind people good hand-washing is very important and that if people are sick they should stay home and keep their children home,” she said.
The illness has hit the Green Ridge community, as the Green Ridge School District decided to dismiss classes early at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and classes have been cancelled Friday. School will resume Monday. Superintendent Cara Easter said the decision was made around 10:30 a.m. Thursday as they monitored attendance levels all week.
“We had been watching attendance numbers the past couple days and more and more students were not attending, calling in sick with the same symptoms,” she said. “Usually the gauge is 20 percent absent we consider closing to get the building sanitized and give people time to get better, and with it falling close to a weekend it was a good time to do it.”
Easter said about 16 percent of students were absent in the district Wednesday and Thursday morning that increased to almost 20 percent with students still getting sick as the day continued.
She said there were two illnesses circulating at the school that contributed to low attendance levels — a “stomach flu bug” and a “respiratory bug” with some cases of strep throat — but the stomach bug was hitting students and staff the hardest.
“(Wednesday) we had teachers out and we called subs, and then some of the subs got sick so we were trying to find subs for subs, which is tough to do,” Easter said. “(Thursday) we had some staff members at school who were getting sick and needed to go home, and we knew we would be in same situation again for the subs.”
Easter said the district’s whole cleaning crew would be working Thursday night and throughout the day Friday to clean classroom by classroom and all bathrooms and commons areas.
“Pretty much anything anyone touches that they can sanitize, they will,” she said.
A Sedalia daycare is also closed until Monday due to an outbreak of an illness with the same symptoms. Martin said the health center received several reports Thursday of the same symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness, with people asking for professional advice on how to handle the situation.
Martin said they do not have a confirmed diagnosis, as they have not received test results, only reports of symptoms and an increase in illnesses from people around the Pettis County area.
“It’s not uncommon. This time of year, respiratory illnesses are circulating in the community,” she said. “We see this a lot when people are inside in close spaces and it’s been very cold and we’ve all been inside with our windows shut tight, so it’s easy to spread within confined spaces.”
The same typical advice to fight off winter illness applies here, Martin said: if you are ill stay home from school or work, wash your hands, and be careful about eating without washing your hands first.
“Many of these intestinal illnesses spread through contact with, frequently it’s a virus, and then if people don’t wash their hands and then eat, it’s a good way to transfer the virus into your system,” Martin explained.
She added that there shouldn’t be any cause for alarm with the outbreak in Pettis County, again noting it “seems to be standard nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”
“Nothing we’ve heard of is anything exotic,” she said. “If we get a diagnosis and there is something we need to caution people about, we will put out a press release.”
According to the Green Ridge Facebook page, junior high basketball games scheduled for Thursday will be played at the end of the tournament Saturday. Junior high games Saturday have been moved up to a 9 a.m. start time. The high school girls team will join the boys team at Smithton Friday night, with JV boys starting at 5:30 p.m.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.