June 13, 2019 4:40 pm
Updated: June 13, 2019 6:47 pm

3 carriers of diphtheria confirmed at Edmonton elementary school, treatment plans underway

An Alberta Health Services sign in front of a Calgary hospital.

File/Global News

According to Alberta Health Services, three people have been identified as carriers of cutaneous diphtheria at an Edmonton elementary school. That’s on top of the one confirmed case reported earlier this week, the health agency said on Thursday.

“AHS continues to monitor and provide follow-up treatment for a small group of individuals who may have had close contact with this cluster of case and carriers,” it said in a news release.

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The risk to the rest of the school and the general public remains “extremely low.”

According to AHS, carriers are simply people who have the disease on their skin. They aren’t sick themselves and are likely low risk to spread the disease further.

Respiratory diphtheria is easier to pass from person to person, AHS said. The cutaneous strain of the disease is harder to pass on, but can be done by coming in contact with commonly touched surfaces.

A letter sent to parents from Evansdale Elementary School on Thursday let parents know of the additional three people who were carrying the bacteria and that a crew would be coming in on Thursday night to do a “deep clean” of the school.

“I know this has been a stressful time for our school community,” principal Brenda Schmermund wrote. “We are doing everything we can to keep students and staff safe at Evansdale School.

“We continue to follow the direction of AHS, to ensure that all standard cleaning and disinfection protocols in our school are being appropriately adhered to and maintained.”

A spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools said the classroom where the close contact occurred was deep cleaned over the weekend, but the organization has now decided to do that same deep clean across the entire school.

READ MORE: Edmonton school informs parents after student contracts diphtheria for 2nd time

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation to the upper respiratory tract and can lead to heart and neurological issues. It’s spread through respiratory secretions — coughing or sneezing — and direct skin-to-skin contact.

“Symptoms include fever, sore throat, loss of appetite and feeling unwell,” AHS said. “Severe disease can cause extreme neck swelling. Life-threatening complications include upper-airway obstruction.”

Alberta Health Services staff at Evansdale School in Edmonton on Friday, June 7, 2019.

Credit: Lisa Connolly

AHS was notified of the confirmed case at Evansdale School last week and Edmonton Public Schools sent a letter home to parents alerting them to the case. It’s not known where those receiving treatment picked up the bacteria.

This is the second time the school has notified parents of a confirmed case of diphtheria at the school.

Rebecca Shewchuk’s 11-year-old son, Draven, was the student who had diphtheria last school year, and on Monday, Shewchuk confirmed he had become infected again.

Shewchuk said Draven is up to date on his vaccinations, but suffers from extreme eczema and that makes him more susceptible to certain illnesses.

READ MORE: Case of diphtheria confirmed at Edmonton elementary school

AHS says it “immediately” initiated its follow-up protocols after being alerted of the confirmed case. That includes treatment and isolating the patient to prevent the illness from spreading further.

The health agency said it has its prevention and control team working with the school to ensure all necessary cleaning and disinfecting was done.

AHS is urging all parents to make sure their kids’ vaccinations are up to date.

WATCH BELOW: For the second time in as many years, kids at an Edmonton school have been exposed to diphtheria. As Quinn Ohler reports, it was the same student who contracted the highly-contagious disease in both cases and his mom is frustrated.

Children should receive three doses of the diphtheria vaccination before one year of age, then a booster at 18 months and between the ages of four and six. Students will be offered another dose in Grade 9 during routine scheduled immunization rounds. Adults are urged to receive another booster every 10 years after that.

Any Albertan can get their or their children’s immunization history by calling their local public health officer or Health Link at 811.

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