Camp Pepin trip canceled as Farmington students get sick
An annual camping trip ended early for more than 100 Farmington elementary school students.
The students from North Trail Elementary School were sent home early from Camp Pepin last week after several students developed flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Both the Wisconsin Department of Public Health and The Minnesota Department of Public Health believe the illness, identified as norovirus, an intestinal bug, arrived at the camp with students from Akin Road Elementary School.
"We've sanitized three times -- a fourth time now by professionals," Red Wing Family YMCA Executive Director Mike Melstad said Friday. The local Y owns and operates the camp located between Stockholm and Pepin.
"Minnesota Department of Health is in the process of asking campers for stool samples that would be tested to confirm the pathogen," Minnesota Department of Health communications officer Doug Schultz said last week. Interviewing and testing a group this size will take time and he didn't anticipate having results until late this week.
Melstad said the camp's basic clean-up procedure is the same whether an illness originates at camp or someone brings a virus with them: Staff members bleach and disinfect the contaminated area.
Since illness affected two groups of students, staff cleaned the cabins, bathrooms and dining hall. Common areas were disinfected as well -- twice. On Friday, A-1 cleaning service from Red Wing was also brought in for a fourth, intensive sanitization.
Pepin County Health Department is leading the investigation with cooperation from the YMCA as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin health departments. The initial findings indicate a few students were ill last week back in Farmington.
On Monday, a student threw up after getting off the bus.
"Our staff took care of the child. People didn't think much more of it until late Tuesday night," Melstad said. Then a couple dozen students became sick. The Y staff member who cleaned the first sick child also came down with the bug.
"We immediately called (Pepin County) Department of Health," Melstad said.
A Farmington School District nurse accompanies each group. The nurse and teachers decided to transport the kids home at their scheduled time Wednesday.
The next group arrived Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, several more students became sick.
A new school nurse staff consulted with other district nurses. A conference call with health officials resulted in students going home.
"They were concerned that Thursday night there could be an outbreak that might be difficult to manage," Melstad said. "They decided to go home and it made sense to me."
Fifth grade students from Meadowview Elementary School attended Camp Pepin on Monday with no reports of illness.
Noroviruses spread quickly, according to the Centers for Disease Control. You can get it by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the virus, touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth, or having direct contact with an infected person.
Noroviruses are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States, the CDC website notes. An estimate 20 million cases occur annually in the U.S. That means about 1 in every 15 Americans get a norovirus illness each year.