Manhattan High School awaits lab results from virus outbreak

Manhattan High School, which had a recent outbreak of an unknown virus, has noticed a decline in number of students sent home from the virus. (File Photo by Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Among the 1,800 students in grades 9-12 who embody Manhattan High School, more than 100 students and faculty have been diagnosed with an unnamed illness.

Michelle Jones, director of communications and school safety at Manhattan High School, said suspicions started when the school nurse noticed an unusual number of students becoming ill with vomiting, diarrhea and nausea around Aug. 18.

“Those kinds of symptoms were weird for students to have this time of year,” Jones said.

For a matter of about 10 days, roughly 15 students were being sent home each day with the symptoms. Students were asked to stay home 24 hours after their symptoms had cleared.

“Some people have labeled the virus ‘norovirus,’ which is a gastrointestinal illness, and can cause a lot of the same symptoms,” Jennifer Green, administrative director for the Riley County Health Department, said. “But until we get back the lab results, we don’t know that’s what it is.”

The Riley County Health Department and Kansas Department of Agriculture came to investigate about three weeks ago.

Green said the investigation first involved calling all the parents of the sick students. They then have sent an online survey to parents asking for stool samples.

“Those samples go to the state lab, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, to do the testing,” Green said. “They are testing right now for everything. Currently, the state lab has sent those samples off to another lab for additional testing. They will do more extensive testing that will go beyond the capabilities of the state lab.”

The lab has had two results come back positive for enteropathogenic E. coli, but it’s unlikely that those are related to the investigation.

Heather Lansdowne, communications director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said the school asked them to do a food inspection. They didn’t find anything that would be connected with the virus related to food safety, she said.

The Riley County Health Department, as well as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas Department of Agriculture, sent the high school a cleaning protocol for them to follow. Green said that hopefully when they implement that protocol, they can see a decline in the numbers.

Jones can attest to the decline, as Tuesday afternoon, she said no students had been sent home for that day.

Hi there! My name is Julia and I'm a senior in journalism and digital media with a public relations emphasis. I am copy chief for the Collegian and also edit for the Manhappenin' magazine. My dream is to live in the mountains someday while working for a marketing or publishing company.