Health officials in Washoe County, NV say a gastrointestinal outbreak, currently of unknown etiology, has struck 10 county schools and two daycares affecting some 400 students, staff, and faculty.

Washoe County/David Benbennick
Washoe County/David Benbennick

The following schools have been affected: Alice Smith Elementary School, Bernice Mathews Elementary School, Stead Elementary School, O’Brien Middle School, Bud Beasley Elementary School, McQueen High School, Desert Heights Elementary School, Grace Warner Elementary School, Nancy Gomes Elementary School, Westergard Elementary School and Marvin Picollo School.

Health officials are working closely with the Washoe County School District and the daycares involved documenting the illnesses and making recommendations to mitigate the situation, including exclusion of sick people and extensive thorough cleaning. While all the facilities involved are following Health District guidelines, officials stress the importance of practicing good hygiene, proper cleaning methods, and staying home when sick.

Gastrointestinal illness transmits most easily where people congregate in groups, such as schools, daycares, group homes and extended care facilities. Usual symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or abdominal cramping. Sometimes headache, fever and body aches are also present. Symptoms usually last 24 to 72 hours and those infected usually make a full recovery. Basic treatment consists of rest and drinking fluids. Some people experience symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization, usually for rehydration.

While many different viruses can cause gastroenteritis, noroviruses are responsible for the majority of cases and have triggered outbreaks in Washoe County in recent years. The bacteria and viruses that cause gastrointestinal illnesses enter the body through the mouth. They live in the digestive tract and are excreted in feces and can be easily transmitted through person-to-person contact; in food and beverages; and on environmental surfaces and objects contaminated with human feces.

One key to avoiding these illnesses is to follow effective hand washing procedures. Use warm water and soap, and wash hands for at least 20 seconds every time after using the restroom, after changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food. After washing, dry hands with a clean, disposable towel and use the towel to turn off the faucet to avoid recontamination. Note that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing, but they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water. Also remember to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them and to cook seafood thoroughly.

If you become ill, stay home from work, school, daycare and social activities until the symptoms have ended. While ill and for at least 3 days after symptoms stop, you should not prepare food for others. This can protect others from becoming exposed.

Health officials also stress the importance of cleaning and disinfecting areas affected by vomiting or diarrhea, and recommend the following procedures: • Always clean with detergent and hot water prior to disinfecting • Disinfect with an effective virucide or chlorine solution of ½ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water.