Strawberry Patron Fears Outbreak

September 4, 2003 - Posted at: 5:00 p.m. CDT

STRAWBERRY, Ark. -- Parents in the River Valley School District are voicing concerns over an undiagnosed illness that has sent some students home with high fevers.

So far, three students in the district have been sent to the hospital with high fevers, body aches, and respiratory problems. Doctors have had a hard time diagnosing these illnesses, despite performing various tests including lumbar punctures. One local parent, however, fears it started in school.

"I feel like I need to get someone involved to find out what's going on," Ernest Sexton said. "What's causing it?"

Two of Sexton's children are among those who have taken ill. His 14-year-old son Ludie was never hospitalized due to his sickness, but is currently taking antibiotics.

"My knees started hurting me," Ludie Sexton said. "My lungs started hurting me. When I got back, I couldn't walk, and started puking."

Buster Sexton, Ernest's older son, has a condition is more severe. He is being hospitalized in Batesville.

"He had been sick for a few days but he went to church Sunday morning," Ernest Sexton said. "He came home. He was going camping with four other boys Sunday afternoon overnight, and he came home and asked us to take him to the hospital."

Naturally, because Buster is a basketball player, his father thought he was suffering from an athletic injury.

"He couldn't hardly walk," Ernest said. "The pains in his back were like someone had hit him with a baseball bat."

That Sunday, Ernest did take his son to White River Medical Center in Batesville. Doctors there ran blood tests, x-rays, and other tests. The results came back clean, and they said everything was fine.

"Wednesday morning they took a spinal tap," Ernest said. "His fever was running a 104 (degrees). Wednesday before the spinal tap his fever was running 105.4."

Ernest Sexton says doctors are calling his sons condition a virus, but he believes it's something else; possibly coming from the school.

"We are taking every precaution, and utilizing every sanitation methods that we have available to ensure that the children of this district are safe," said River Valley Superintendent Greg Crabtree, who says that parents should not be alarmed.

"We have 353 students, counting our preschool, and three of them have had this," he said.

Both the school district and Sexton have contacted the Arkansas Health Department about the mysterious illness. A spokesperson from the health department told K8 News that an investigation is underway.

"We are aware that some of the children are ill," said Stephanie Williams of the Northeast Arkansas Health Department. "We are investigating. However, this is not unusual, especially when school starts back."

The health department would not comment on the specifics of the investigation, but they say more information will be available next week.