The Stomach Bug Norovirus Wallops Schools

As of Monday, December 4, students were returning to Benton County schools. It was a week of low attendance and school closures due to a highly contagious and fast moving illness.

Kevin Smith, superintendent of Lincoln’s R-2 School District, ordered schools to be closed on Thursday, November 30 and Friday, December 1, due to the illness of 146 (30%) of its students. The day was spent disinfecting school facilities,  this reduces the chance of further illness through contact with infectious counters, bathrooms and other surfaces. 
On Thursday, student absences in the Warsaw School District were about normal for this year, but Friday, saw a sharp increase in absentees. 
“Our attendance was in the low to mid 90 percent level on Thursday,” said Dr. Shawn Poyser, Superintendent of the Warsaw District. “But we were hosting a basketball tournament with eight schools including Lincoln, and we were struggling to keep everyone healthy by cleaning sinks, floors, chairs and benches in the gym. However on Friday, our attendance fell to 86 percent at the high school, 65 percent at North Elementary (70 plus absent), and 82 percent at Ruth Mercer. South Elementary was the only school with normal attendance at 95 percent. If this had happened on Thursday, I would probably have closed down schools in the district. But with the weekend beginning the next day, there was the possibility  attendance would improve on Monday.”
One teacher in the Warsaw School District said the schools were to be “bombed” with disinfectants over the December 2nd through 3rd weekend.
Fortunately, Cole Camp Schools were not affected by the illness that’s spread so quickly in other districts. Lincoln’s school attendance was much better on Monday, with only about 35 out in the whole district Dr. Poyser reported attendance in Warsaw was back up in the 90s percentage rate after the weekend.
The Benton County Health Department (BCHD) is assuming the majority of illnesses in Lincoln and Warsaw are caused by the Norovirus, since a lot of the local symptoms are diarrhea, throwing up, nausea and stomach pain are common with that virus. This disease also goes by the names of stomach flu and gastroenteritis which can involve fever, headache and body aches.
“These local illnesses are highly contagious and spread rapidly,” said Barb Schroder, Public Health Nurse at BCHD. “Symptoms usually develop 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to Norovirus and last from one to three days. Children should not return to school until they have been symptom free for 24 hours.” 
School children aren’t the only ones being affected by this virus. Denise Reno, substitute coordinator in Warsaw schools, reported last Thursday that teachers were “dropping like flies.” Julie Parker, a Reading Recovery teacher in Warsaw said her nine-month-old son, Brock, began having diarrhea and was throwing up on November 29. Heather Johnson, a student nurse from Clinton Technical School who is interning at BCHD, said her daughter’s day care center had to close because of illness.  Johnson had to call on a relative to take care of the little girl.
Monday morning a bulletin regarding the local illnesses was issued by Barb Schroder and has been reprinted below.
“Good Morning! This is Barb Schroder, Public Health Nurse, here at BCHD. I’ve responded to several Facebook posts, on parents with sick children and parents themselves, who are suffering with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Unfortunately, the Noro Virus “stomach flu” is now affecting students at the Warsaw Schools, along with Lincoln schools. I feel it is warranted to go over some tips to help keep this illness, at a minimum if possible.
Norovirus is an enteric (stomach) illness. It is not affiliated with Influenza, which is a respiratory illness affecting the lungs. It is very contagious, as has been witnessed, sweeping through several area schools. The virus is spread through contaminated surfaces, touching areas, and then hand to mouth. Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fevers. Symptoms can last 1-3 days, but the virus can continue in stools for up to 2 weeks. So just because a person is feeling better, they are still contagious. 
There is no medication treatment. What is absolutely necessary is plenty of clear fluids. Dehydration occurs with vomiting, diarrhea and fevers. These fluids have to be replaced or hospitalization can occur. Clear fluids can include water, Pedialyte, Gatorade, clear sodas, iced tea, Popsicles, broth and Jell-O. Anything you put in a glass and can see through. No milk products. Don’t be concerned if there is no appetite. Our bodies need the fluids, first and foremost. Small children and the elderly are the highest risk for dehydration. Children that are not having any wet diapers, dry tongue and no tears, should see their Doctor. Otherwise, plenty of fluids are recommended. 
To keep this illness at a minimum, handwashing is a MUST. Hands should be washed after each vomiting and diarrheal episode. Wash for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water. Hand sanitizers can be used, but should not replace handwashing. All surfaces need to be cleaned with a bleach product. This includes countertops, toilets, toilet handles, sinks, faucets and door knobs. The virus can stay on surfaces for a long while, so bleach often. Lysol can be used in addition. Linens should be washed in hot water. People who are experiencing any of these symptoms  should stay home. There is no reason to go out and spread illness in the community.  Avoid going to public places, medical facilities and nursing homes  if you feel ill. Norovirus can spread before symptoms even start. Students are able to return to school once they are symptom free for 24 hours.
I hope this has been informative.”