Vegetation blamed as cause for VHS outbreak

Vegetation blamed as cause for VHS outbreak by M. Jill Karolevitz Vermillion High School students will no doubt decorate the library differently for future homecoming celebrations, as the leaves and branches used this year caused a rash that affected both students and staff.

School was dismissed at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 26, after the mysterious rash broke out. Complaints about the red, itchy rash started the previous week, but by Tuesday noon, nine students and three staff members were suffering from varying symptoms. School officials decided not to take any chances, especially after three students experienced respiratory problems, and shut the school down in order to determine the cause of the outbreak.

New ceiling tiles and new carpet had been suspected, as were cleaning solutions. However, results of tests conducted by Geotek Engineering and Testing Services of Sioux Falls, and Keith Carlson, an industrial hygienist from Minneapolis, eventually pointed to vegetation that was brought into the library for homecoming decorations as the cause of the rash.

�Preliminary results indicate that the rash was not caused by ceiling tile, fiberglass, molds, fungus, or any chemical,� according to a statement issued by the office of Superintendent Robert Mayer. �The construction site was also eliminated as a cause. The most likely cause was the vegetation that was brought into the library as part of the homecoming decorations. The timing of the decorating and the rash outbreak correspond.�

�We think what may have happened is that when gathering the leaves and branches, students brushed up against poison ivy, although poison ivy was not brought into the building,� Mayer said. �This has not been confirmed, however.

�Weed spraying has nothing whatsoever to do with the rash, either,� Mayer added. �That was done long before the students returned to school this fall.�

As a result of the findings, the high school was cleaned completely and the heating and air conditioning systems were put into a purge mode to flush the building with outside air. School reconvened at its normal time Monday morning, Oct. 2.

Two students complained of rash symptoms on Oct. 3 and sought medical attention, but as of Thursday morning, Oct. 5, no other cases have occurred.

�We�re going to stay the course right now,� Mayer said.

The superintendent�s statement adds that �it cannot be concluded with 100 percent certainty that the vegetation caused the rash outbreak,� but Mayer says no further testing will be conducted.

In retrospect, Vermillion School Board President Tom Craig said �it was a touchy situation, but I think Bob (Mayer) did an excellent job in handling it. He used good judgement and did a good job in justifying the kind of measures that were taken, keeping the health of students and staff a priority.�

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