School officials in Person County, North Carolina say nearly 700 students (about one out of seven) did not come to school today and a number left school early due to an outbreak of a gastrointestinal disease with symptoms resembling norovirus, according to local media outlets. Officials do clarify that its not clear how many are actually sick and how many stayed home as a precaution.
This follows a report from the Person County Health Department Wednesday when 125 kids, mostly from Person High School, were out sick with the GI infection. Health officials say the symptoms experienced include diarrhea, vomiting, and a low grade fever which are similar to the symptoms of norovirus.
What other schools are affected? Although unofficial, one person on the health department’s Facebook page posted the following: Yes SO it is now at Person, PCC, Oakland, Helena, Southern Middle, RCS (kids complaining of feeling sick), and Woodland and north end!
Confirmation testing is pending to determine the exact etiology of this outbreak.
Health officials recommend strict handwashing as an effective means to prevent the spread of contagious viruses like norovirus. In addition, those with gastrointestinal illnesses such as norovirus are advised to stay out of work or school until 48 hours after symptoms have resolved.
Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.
The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people additionally have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. In most people, the illness is self-limiting with symptoms lasting for about 1 or 2 days. In general, children experience more vomiting than adults do.
Norovirus is spread person to person particularly in crowded, closed places. Norovirus is typically spread through contaminated food and water, touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth and close contact with someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea.
Norovirus causes more than 20 million illnesses annually and it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States. Each year it contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths.
Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today
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