While Ebola began to take the world by storm, a viral illness paid Bear Creek a visit during the last week before fall break.
On September 24, Vice Principal Sera Baysinger was notified of two initial student cases of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD), a common viral illness. She immediately took precautionary action by reporting to the school nurse and district health services, alerting and teachers in those specific classrooms where students were allegedly infected and arranging classroom disinfection with custodial staff.
Plant Supervisor Kim Woodruff and her team sanitized classrooms that afternoon by saturating them with a potent chemical called virex. Woodruff said that they sprayed the virex on all frequently touched surfaces including counters, desks, door knobs and frames, sinks, keyboards, mice and monitors.
Then the virex, which only requires 10 minutes to take effect, was left to sit and kill all the germs. Unfortunately, several students had already come into contact with the HFMD virus before the cases were reported and at least two other students were diagnosed with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists close contact with the infected, coughing or sneezing, contact with feces or blister fluid and touching infected objects or surfaces as possible transmission methods. Tracing how the virus spreads from person to person is more difficult and is often inhibited by privacy laws.
“It would be a violation of privacy for me to give information to classes who wanted to protect the students who were involved,” Baysinger said.
HIPPA laws from the American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 also protect patient privacy. When a doctors’ note is sent in to school to excuse a student to class, the reason why the student needs to stay at home is usually not stated. Health care providers cannot disclose that personal information.
Moreover, the incubation period of HFMD is usually three to six days. Patients are also most contagious during that first week after initial exposure to the virus. Identifying the cold-like symptoms as HFMD, however, is nearly impossible until blisters appear on the hands and feet.
Junior Sang Vo said that he went to school for three days feeling sick and not knowing he had HFMD. After visiting the doctor and getting diagnosed, Vo was excused from school for the last three days of the quarter.
“It made everyday actions like walking and writing harder,” Vo said.
Junior Hillary Nguyen Pham started feeling sick soon after Vo did, but doesn’t know if she caught the virus from Vo.
“I didn’t have any contact with Sang,” Nguyen-Pham said. “I just said hello to him.”
Junior Nic Banis started experiencing symptoms such as a mid-range fever and blisters on his hands and arms during the last week of school before break.
“I had hundreds of tiny blisters and some larger ones all up my arms,” Banis said.
Although there is no cure, Banis said he took Tylenol to help relieve the fever symptoms.
Other students didn’t begin showing the the tell-tale blister symptom until the weekend after fall break began. Junior Mylene Ibus felt unwell on the last day and spotted a blister on her finger that Saturday.
“I felt horrible and before I knew it I saw a blister on my finger,” Ibus said. “ I was freaking out.”
Ibus said that her doctor advised her to refrain from being in group situations until the blisters dried, which is HFMD’s all-clear sign in the majority of cases.
Because most patients recover naturally in seven to 10 days, HFMD is not listed as a reportable communicable disease in the district’s health services manual. LUSD’s health services policies are determined by the local, state and federal mandates. Baysinger said the district followed all the steps needed to be taken.
“We’re following our district protocol, and we never want to cause panic,” Baysinger said. “If there’s a procedure we need to follow it and will follow it.”
Thankfully HFMD is not a serious illness; it very rarely causes complications. Ebola, enterovirus D68 and even the seasonal influenza are of much greater severity.
Since Ebola cases were identified in Dallas, Texas, at the end of last month, an Ebola hysteria has been circulating the nation.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there so it is important to get accurate health information,” supervising San Joaquin County (SJC) Public Health Nurse Joan Collins of the Disease Control and Prevention program said.
The SJC Public Health is making an ongoing effort to keep the community aware of the correct information through health alerts, advisories and updates. On October 22, SJC Public Health released a statement of their preparedness system for Ebola; measures are being taken to ensure the county’s healthcare and public health systems are prepared for any health threat.
“It is an opportune time for all critical partners involved in such response to communicate regularly and coordinate so that we have a well-functioning system,” SJC Public Health Officer Alvaro Garza said.
The community also has to do its part. In addition to staying informed, practicing good hygiene goes a long way in preventing the contraction of any communicable illness or disease.
“We should all be practicing universal precautions and be diligent about washing our hands,” school nurse Lynn Vanotti said.