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Kindergartner dies amid an outbreak of unidentified illnesses at Detroit school

Parents should look out for flulike symptoms among children ages 4 to 7, the Health Department said.
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Public health officials in Detroit are investigating an outbreak of unidentified illnesses at an elementary and middle school after a kindergartner died.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District said Wednesday that the school, Marcus Garvey Academy, "has experienced an unusually high rate of flu-like symptoms including student fevers, and vomiting, namely at the early grade levels."

The kindergarten student's cause of death has not been confirmed, so it is not yet known whether it was related to the outbreak.

The Detroit Health Department said in a statement Wednesday that it has not confirmed the cause of the illnesses. It told parents and caregivers to be on the lookout for several symptoms, including fever, headache, lethargy, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, among children ages 4 to 7.

Garvey Academy will be closed through Monday for deep cleaning, the statement said.

Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit
Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit.WDIV

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services referred questions about the outbreak to the Detroit Health Department, which did not respond to requests for comment. Wayne County did not immediately respond to inquiries, either.

Dr. Kevin Dazy, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, said the continued circulation of respiratory viruses — which tend to peak in the winter — could still be driving outbreaks in schools. Detroit is still experiencing winter weather, he noted, which has prompted kids to spend more time indoors this spring.

“Sure, this is a little bit later in the season. By no means is it unheard of that we may see another wave of any viral respiratory illness,” Dazy said.

He said that his hospital has not seen any patients connected to the Garvey Academy outbreak but that the school's reported illnesses did not surprise him.

“When you’re in a confined area, such as a classroom, of course that can make one child very contagious to the other kids in the class,” he said.

Dazy added that it is hard to know why the source of the outbreak has not been identified yet but noted that doctors often test less for respiratory viruses during off-peak seasons, which could delay diagnoses.

In a separate incident this week, a Detroit day care facility temporarily closed Wednesday for deep cleaning because of an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease.

The day care, Focus: HOPE Center for Children, said it had identified 17 cases as of Tuesday. But the disease is mild, and it is unlikely to be related to the outbreak at Garvey Academy.

Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads easily through droplets from coughs or sneezes or contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. It is common in infants and children younger than 5, with symptoms that usually include fever, mouth sores and a skin rash.

The day care is scheduled to reopen Monday.