Health authorities looking into deadly ‘Bourbon virus’

Health officials with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate a new virus that was linked to the death of a Kansas resident in the summer of 2014.

Although the host of the new virus, called Bourbon virus, is not known at this time, it is thought to be transmitted through the bites of tickets or other insects, health authorities said.

Symptoms of the Kansas resident resembled other tick-borne diseases, including fever and fatigue.

This is the first known case of Bourbon virus, which has been named after Bourbon County, Kan., where the patient had lived, health officials said. Bourbon County is in southeast Kansas near the Ft. Scott area.

Because of the patient’s symptoms and changes in blood counts, it was believed that the resident had a tick-borne illness, such as ehrlichiosis or Heartland virus disease. However, specimens taken from the resident tested negative for known tick-borne diseases and after further investigation it was determined to be a new, never before seen, virus. It is not known if Bourbon virus was the cause of death or how much it contributed to the resident’s death.

CDC, KDHE, and the clinical team are working to learn more about this new virus. The patient’s case history has been reviewed and there are plans to test other residents, with similar symptoms, who have tested negative for Heartland virus in the last year for this novel virus, officials said.

CDC has developed blood tests that can be used to identify and confirm recent Bourbon virus infections. Investigations are ongoing to explore how people are getting infected with the virus, including plans to collect and test ticks and other insects for the new virus,

There is no known specific treatment, vaccine, or drug for Bourbon virus disease, according to officials. Since Bourbon virus disease is thought to be transmitted through tick or insect bites, risk to the public during the winter months is minimal. To reduce the potential risk of tick- or insect-borne illnesses, KDHE and CDC recommend that people:

• Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter;
• Use insect repellent containing DEET when outdoors;
• Use products that contain permethrin on clothing;
• Wear clothing with long sleeves and pants;
• Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you;
• Conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors; and
• Examine gear and pets, as ticks can “ride” into the home and attach to a person later.

Doctorate degree represents achievement on many levels for Piper Middle School assistant principal

Sarah Mendez-Guerrero, assistant principal at Piper Middle School, recently received a doctorate degree in educational leadership.
Sarah Mendez-Guerrero, assistant principal at Piper Middle School, recently received a doctorate degree in educational leadership.

by Mary Rupert

An announcement last week came over the public address system at Piper Middle School congratulating Dr. Sarah Mendez-Guerrero on receiving her doctorate degree.

The assistant principal and athletic director at the school, Guerrero’s degree in educational leadership from Baker University represents a milestone for her personally, as well as for her family.

Guerrero, who is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, is the first person in her family to receive a college degree. Her bachelor’s degree was from Texas A&M, and her master’s was from Baker.

“I grew up in a home with loving parents who valued education, but unfortunately did not have an education,” Guerrero said. Her mother had a sixth-grade education and her father graduated from high school.

It was always her personal goal to graduate from college, she said. A second reason was that the college degrees help in her professional growth, she added. As an educator, it is important to continue her education, as well, she said.

Guerrero believes that her achievements can help guide others who have Hispanic backgrounds in knowing that they, too, can achieve academically.

“Not only for kids to see it, but to reach out to the Hispanic community, as well,” Guerrero said. “There is no excuse, you can do anything when you set your mind to it.”

What made it difficult for her was that, although she grew up in a home where education was highly valued, her family didn’t know the route toward education. They didn’t know what steps should be taken, how to pay for a college education, and other details, she said.

“Trying to figure out things on my own was very difficult for me,” she said. “I relied on a couple of my teachers to help me out.”

She asked many questions; at registration, she asked many persons if they could tell her where to go and how to complete the steps that needed to be taken. She made her way by advocating for herself and asking plenty of questions.

Another challenge was that she married young and was a married student at college, with other responsibilities besides academics.

Guerrero said she never felt left out in college. Her dad always told her never to allow herself to feel left out because of her race, gender or where she came from. “Know where you come from, remember your values, and you can excel at anything,” he told her.

Guerrero is married and has two sons, a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old. She said she is “very blessed” to have a spouse who supported her and put her education before his, to complete a promise she had made to herself and her father that she would finish school despite being married at a young age.

Last week, she said it was exciting to see the staff and students enthusiastic about her achievement.

Guerrero said one day she would like to have her own building, preferably at the middle school level. In future years she may want to go to the district administration level, but now, she prefers to remain at the middle school building level.

When she did an internship at the district office, she felt there was something missing, she said. It wasn’t until she went back to the middle school building that she realized it was the kids. She said she enjoys being able to help kids grow, academically and behaviorally, as young individuals.

“It’s the kids that make me feel like I’m doing something,” she said.

ACLU asks court to stop punishment of student who participated in silent protest at Lincoln Academy

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Kansas City, Mo., School District, saying the district violated a student’s First Amendment rights. The suit asks the court to stop punishing the student for participating in a protest.

When Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon began speaking during an assembly on Nov. 20 at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, 14 students stood and held their hands up in a sign of surrender. It was a silent protest. They were immediately ushered out of the auditorium, sent home and threatened with a 10-day suspension. This punishment was changed to a Saturday School detention.

“This student was exercising her constitutional rights by expressing the message that she stood in solidarity with other protesters across Missouri and the country after the death of Michael Brown,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The school should be proud to have taught their students to be confident in their right to express themselves to the governor.”

“School administrators cannot punish students for communications they think will bring negative attention to the school,” said Sarah Rossi, the ACLU of Missouri’s director of advocacy and policy. “The First Amendment does not permit that.”