By Ronda Kaysen
Last week, two P.S. 89 kindergarteners both in the same class were diagnosed with Hepatitis A, an infectious liver disease, sparking concern among parents and a public health response from the citys Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
One infected students physician following public health code alerted the Health Dept. to his patients diagnosis on Wednesday afternoon before the Thanksgiving weekend. Because Hepatitis A, the mildest hepatitis strain, is a reportable disease, the department contacted the parents in the students kindergarten class and directed them to Gouverneur Hospital, a vaccination and shots of gamma globulin, a medicine given to prevent infection. A letter was sent to the parents in the classroom the following Monday.
Andrew Tucker, spokesperson for the citys Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, said: No similar illness has been reported since 11/15. D.O.H.M.H. will continue to closely monitor the situation.
Health officials said children in other classes at the school are not in danger of contracting the disease.
The call that we got was great, said John Yoo, a parent of one of the children in the class. We wish it didnt have to happen the day before Thanksgiving, but were happy that we were able to deal with it that evening.
The wait for a shot quickly turned into a makeshift play date, said Yoo, when several of his sons classmates turned up at the hospital for their shots. By the end of the evening there were four or five families there, which helped to make it less traumatic, he said.
Spread through fecal matter, Hepatitis A is often spread by food handlers not washing their hands before serving food or close physical or sexual contact with another person. In some cases, the disease can be spread through contaminated drinking water. Unlike other strains of hepatitis, Hepatitis A, which causes fatigue, poor appetite, fever and vomiting, is not a chronic disease and rarely causes permanent health problems or death. Because the disease is spread through direct contact with another person, the Health Dept. did not contact parents with children in other classes in the school. The schools cafeteria was inspected, however, and no violations were detected.
Its not something spread just by being in the same room as somebody; its spread through intimate contact, said Dr. Chester Lerner, Director of Infections Diseases and Infection Control for NYU Downtown Hospital. Lerner was not familiar with the specifics of this case but said in general, children most at risk for contracting the disease are those in close contact with the infected child, such as siblings or close friends.
Parents who learned about the incident second or third hand expressed more anxiety about the situation than those who were informed of it by the city. Do I think things like this should be out in the open? Absolutely. Am I waiting to hear from the school? Yes I am, said Tom Goodkind, a P.S. 89 parent. Goodkind learned about the incident from another parent who attended a P.T.A. meeting this week and was under the impression that as many as four children had been infected. After consulting his physician, Goodkind intends to vaccinate his eight-year-old daughter against the disease. Im very happy that I know about this, he said. Because I fully intend to get my child vaccinated.
Angela Benfield, co-president of P.S./I.S. 89 P.T.A. was less concerned. My son is in third grade and I feel that he is very safe in his classroom, she said. I do not feel that his health is at risk in any way. The incident, she emphasized, was isolated. Illness is a part of life, she added. They did the best that they could do to handle the situation.
Ronnie Najjar, principal of P.S. 89, and Ellen Foote, principal of adjoining I.S. 89, did not return repeated calls for comment Dec. 2.
The Health Dept. advises concerned parents or anyone who suspects infection, to contact their physician.