Dr. Paige Hatcher of St. Luke Physicians Clinic said she has treated Marion residents infected with the same unidentified illness that has struck nearly 20 percent of Tabor College students.
“I have seen some patients this week, not many with similar symptoms, but it’s hard to know if it’s the same virus or not at this point,” she said. “We did get a notice this week from the Kansas Health Department saying they’re concerned about a possible outbreak.”
The illness presents much like food poisoning with intense vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping that last a few days.
Hatcher said the illness can be especially dangerous for elderly and for those that become dehydrated. She recommends those with the illness, or any illness that involves vomiting, to keep hydrated.
She is also asking residents who don’t need to see a doctor about their illness to still call the county health department and report it.
“They’re asking physicians and residents to report the illness for their investigation to see if they can find the source,” Hatcher said.
Usually illnesses like this are caused by food poisoning or someone on vacation bringing back the illness and spreading it, Hatcher said.
Health department administrator Diedre Serene said the department is working with Kansas Department of Health and Environment to discover where the illness originated and its cause.
“At this point we don’t know much,” she said. “We’re still working on gathering information.”
Tabor communications director Katrina Hancock said the college is also working with the health department to figure out where the illness came from.
She believes the illness is simple gastroenteritis, a “stomach flu,” but that has yet to be determined by local physicians. The college was able to rule out food poisoning because the illness was not limited to students who had eaten at the school cafeteria.
Hancock reports that the majority of students who were sick are on the mend, with no more than the 30 that were reported Monday being reported Tuesday.
After hearing about others in the community who did not attend the college with the same symptoms, Hancock does not believe Tabor students are alone in contracting the virus.
“There’s always something going around,” she said. “There are 600 people crammed onto campus so stuff gets spread.”