WILSON — Seventy-two people -- mostly children -- have contracted a highly contagious intestinal disease calledshigellosis. The symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Most of the cases have been linked to a Wilson elementary school.
Hand washing has always been encouraged at Vinson-Bynum Elementary School. After dozens of children and a teacher got sick with shigellosis, soap and water are now part of the required curriculum.
"We can't say how it started. We can only say that it has been here," says principal Martha Martin. "We've taken all the steps and measures it takes to minimize the effects on our student population," she says.
All cafeteria workers tested negative for shigellosis, so health care workers suspect a sick student may have spread the intestinal bacteria by not properly washing after using the bathroom.
"In a school setting where children share common objects, they play together, they touch each other, they hold hands, it's very easy for this to spread from one child to another," says Donna King of theWilson County Health Department.
In addition to the cases at Vinson-Bynum Elementary School, there are also cases at the middle school and a daycare. The health department has taken in over 100 samples.
The school has turned the outbreak into a life lesson -- one that applies to everyone.
"When any child gets sick, you take the responsibility," says Martin, whose own son, Tyler, caught the disease. "But, when one of those children who is sick is your own personal child, you can take a closer responsibility, and you take a closer look at what's going on in your school."
Very young children and older people are most susceptible to Shigellosis because it can lead to dehydration. Victims are prescribed an antibiotic which usually takes care of the symptoms in about five days.