At least 50 people got sick from a reported infection at a State College area picnic over the weekend.
Grace Prep High School posted a video from founder Bob Gresh on its Facebook page Saturday announcing that at least half of the 100-150 guests at a going-away picnic for a longtime teacher on Friday had fallen ill with symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
"This isn't just a flu bug where you feel bad, this is a moaning and groaning flu bug that feels horrible," he said in a later video.
Mount Nittany Medical Center confirmed that its doctors have seen 50 patients associated with a common activity since Saturday who presented gastrointestinal-type symptoms.
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Gresh said the bug was confirmed to be salmonella. They do not yet know the exact source of the infection, but the state Department of Health is testing samples of food at the picnic to determine where the contamination came from.
"The challenge here is we have a pretty tight-knit community and pretty much all of them were affected, so my whole staff on the Grace Prep side was out," Gresh said. "So we've been texting and calling each other to keep up to date."
The illness was so bad that they even canceled church at Centre Church on Sunday, to prevent it from spreading.
So Gresh and what was left of his staff organized the community through social media and texting to keep each other in the loop about which families were affected, how their symptoms were being treated and what they needed.
He said the few remaining healthy members have been going over to peoples' homes and delivering them soup, walking their dogs, watering their flowers, and whatever else they might need.
"Our school has about 70-65 kids and we like to keep it that way, and in situations like this, it shows how close people are and how much of a family we are at Grace Prep," Gresh said.
Another challenge Grace Prep is facing with the illness is getting their students ready for their mission trip to Zambia on Wednesday.
Fortunately for those going on the trip, the vaccinations they took to ward off illness in Zambia kept them from getting as sick as some of the others at the picnic. But with their parents out, other members of the community have stepped up to help them pack and prepare for their trip.
"I hope they'll be able to go, because they worked very hard to get there," Gresh said.
Symptoms of salmonella infection include fever, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, according to Mount Nittany. As it rarely spreads from person to person, salmonella is not considered highly contagious. Most people get better within four to seven days.
"It's been a crazy time. But hey, we really know how to throw a party," Gresh said with a laugh.
To avoid spreading disease at outdoor picnics, Mount Nittany offers the following advice:
- Wash your hands well with soap and water before handling food
- Use a thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit; pork and ground meats to at least 160 degrees; beef and lamb to 145 degrees; and eggs until the yolks are firm and not runny
- Wash or peel fresh fruits and vegetables before eating
- Wash cooking boards and utensils with soap and hot water after each use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet responded to a media inquiry.