SYLVESTER, Ga. — Officials with Worth County Schools announced Friday that they had decided to close all the schools in the system for two days to help get a disease outbreak under control.
Shigella, a bacterial infection that is typically spread orally and fecally, has been confirmed in four children and scores of others from several schools are showing symptoms since the outbreak began earlier this month, officials with the Southwest Public Health District said.
It is common in day care settings.
“In most cases, it is seen in young children,” said Jacqueline Jenkins, the epidemiologist with the health district. “There are many young children that might not wash their hands properly.”
The schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday, said Heather Greene, spokeswoman for the school system, to give school officials as well as the impacted families time to enact measures to help get the spread of the disease under control.
“We are just trying to get a handle on it right now,” Greene said. “We are just trying to educate people right now, and start scrubbing down some surfaces.
“We are trying to get people to go home, take some time off and do some cleaning.”
In a news release, the school system cites increased absences of both staff and students affecting instructional time as one of the reasons for the closure. Greene said Friday afternoon that she did not know if there was a chance of the closure extending beyond Tuesday.
While it has impacted the schools, the health district is stressing that it is a community-wide issue.
The recommendation to close the schools did not come from the health district, but officials are working with the school system to help control the outbreak.
“We are working with the schools on control and prevention,” Jenkins said. “It takes awhile for the control factors to break in, so it seems to linger. People then take it home to families, and that’s how it got to the community.
“So this is a community-wide problem.”
Because of the nature in which it is transmitted, the only way to prevent spread of the disease is to exercise proper handwashing.
“This means using soap under running water for at least 20 seconds, and to get under the nailbeds,” Jenkins said. “Hands should be dried with a push hand dryer or a paper towel.”
The symptoms of shigella include diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever. The public health district is advising that children who become infected not return to school until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.