Data from area schools and health providers seem to show that Grayson County’s ongoing outbreak of dysentery caused by the shigella virus is in remission, though officials were quick to caution that the county is not yet out of the woods. Health Director John Teel said the hyper-contagious nature of the infection means the count of new cases must reach zero for an extended period before health authorities can declare victory.

Data from area schools and health providers seem to show that Grayson County’s ongoing outbreak of dysentery caused by the shigella virus is in remission, though officials were quick to caution that the county is not yet out of the woods. Health Director John Teel said the hyper-contagious nature of the infection means the count of new cases must reach zero for an extended period before health authorities can declare victory.


"It started in October, and then November was our largest month for confirmed cases. It began to decrease in December, but you can’t say that’s a trend; you just hope it’s a trend," said Teel. "For January, we’re probably at 20 (confirmed cases) today. We’re always a little bit behind on when we get lab results, so we don’t have all the January data yet. But I believe we’re making progress, and when I say ‘we,’ I really mean the health department with the school districts and parents."


Teel explained that a recent outbreak of the stomach flu, which shares many symptoms — save longevity — with shigellosis, has made it more difficult to get an accurate picture of the current state of affairs.


"We have an outbreak in Grayson County that began that first week in January of norovirus; it’s the same as the cruise ships are getting hammered with," said Teel. "So here we are, we’ve got parents and schools and doctors and everybody … being very vigilant for diarrheal illness, and we tell doctors ‘Rule out shigella.’ And now we’ve got this sudden upsurge in diarrhea cases that we thought was shigella, except the patients recovered swiftly, like 24 hours after their first vomiting. Well, that’s not shigella.


"Now here’s the good news: Anything you do to prevent norovirus prevents shigella as well. The same things about extremely good hand washing — the 20-second hand-washing rule — good sanitizing at your home if you’re cleaning up after a sick loved one."


While most early cases of the illness originated in Sherman elementary schools, Teel said a shift has recently occurred that has put Denison students at greater risk.


"About five weeks ago, this epidemic seemed to move north into Denison, therefore the Denison ISD got hammered and became the majority of our cases for awhile. Two-thirds of all of our cases have been children nine and under; that almost defines shigella. Shigella is most common in children who don’t have good hand washing skills yet. Adults who get it usually are parents of a sick kid."


Grayson County Health Department authorities will continue to fight the disease through public education until it’s finally eradicated, said Teel.


"We can’t let up our efforts … to stop this. Something’s working, probably (the word getting out to) tell families what to look for, go to the doc quickly, and use extremely good disease control measures in your house. It appears to be slowing, but we certainly have not stopped this outbreak."