By Kelly Youngblood
Don’t panic if your child recently came home with a letter from the Champaign Urbana Public Health District — even if the letter confirms a student at your child’s school has a contagious disease you’ve probably never even heard of called shigellosis.
If you’re a parent of a student at Lincoln Trail Elementary in Mahomet or Judah Christian in Champaign, you probably received a letter from the CUPHD regarding a confirmed case of shigellosis at your child’s school.
The CUHPD sent home letters to Lincoln Trail parents on Oct. 20 and Judah Christian parents on Oct. 30.
But Anna Elliott, a registered nurse at the CUHPD, says the letter is not an attempt to scare parents. It’s just part of a proactive approach they take in these types of situations.
“I think the most important thing is when that letter does come home, to not be alarmed but be aware that there was a confirmed case. And just know the symptoms to watch for,” Elliott said.
Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called Shigella. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, which usually appear one to two days after being exposed. Oftentimes, the diarrhea is bloody.
The disease is fairly common in toddlers 2 to 4 years old and usually occurs when the germ passes from the stool or soiled fingers of one person to another.
“It is more common in schools typically because it spreads a lot of time through inadequate hand washing,” Elliott said. “We just want to let parents know what type of symptoms to watch for so that way if they do see some of these symptoms they can contact their doctor for testing.”
Elliott said careful hand washing is key to preventing the spread of the disease. She suggests parents teach their kids to use warm, soapy water to wash their hands and to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to ensure they do it long enough.
The letter sent home to parents at both schools said, “Parents and children should practice proper hand washing technique before eating, after toileting and after diapering, as well as throughout the day when hands become dirty.”
Lab tests are necessary to determine the specific diagnosis or strain of the disease and sometimes an antibiotic is necessary. Shigellosis usually resolves in five to seven days.
Elliott said a total of four cases of shigellosis had been confirmed in Champaign County in October.
Elliott said it’s important for children who are experiencing any of the symptoms to stay home from school and to see their pediatrician.
“If your child does have some of these symptoms the most important thing is to keep them out of school, take them to the doctor, get tested,” Elliott said.
For more information about shigellosis, go to this link.