Health District says Gastrointestinal Illness on the Rise in Washoe County
Nearly 400 students, staff and faculty members at 11 schools in Washoe County are experiencing outbreaks of a gastrointestinal illness, which health officials believe to be norovirus.
As you mentioned, anyone can catch this, especially in close proximity like classrooms or daycares. So we talked to an expert about how you and your family can prevent further spread of the disease.
"We experience this almost every year," said Dr. Randall Todd, the Director of Epidemiology and Public Health Preparedness for the Washoe County Health District.
Health officials say noroviruses have triggered several outbreaks in Washoe County. The illness enters the body through the mouth by person-to-person contact, food, and contaminated objects. Then symptoms set in.
"They're going to complain of some stomach discomfort. They will probably experience some vomiting. They may experience some diarrhea," said Todd.
Symptoms usually clear up after two to three days, but health officials say the virus can still be present even though your child may appear to be better.
"Even though they are starting to feel better, they're still excreting virus, and for at least 72 hours, we believe that the virus is capable of causing disease in others," said Todd.
One parent we talked to said it was like a domino effect with one kid after another getting sick in her family.
"I don't send them to school. I let them stay home. Even if it's hard you know, I make sure they stay to themselves, stick them in bed," said Kadie Hanks, a parent of two children who attend Bernice Mathew Elementary School.
Experts stress to practice good hygiene like washing your hands constantly.
"Before eating, after going to the bathroom, anything like that, washing ones hands is very very important," said Todd.
Washing with soap and water is the best method according experts. Using a waterless hand sanitizer is okay, but isn't as effective.
"I have them wash their hands several times a day because I know that's how we pick up a lot of germs pretty much everywhere we go. And we ride the bus so we're in contact with all kinds of germs," said Hanks.
The health district is still waiting on lab results to definitively confirm it is norovirus, but they say they are confident it is based on symptoms and the incubation period of the illness.
From Washoe County School District:
The Washoe County Health District reports that gastrointestinal illness outbreaks in ten schools and daycares have sickened nearly 400 students, staff, and faculty. 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.
For more information about gastrointestinal illness, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.
Here is the list of schools involved in the outbreak status:
Alice Smith Elementary School 9/16
Bernice Mathews Elementary School 9/17
Stead Elementary School 9/23
O’Brien Middle School 9/23
Bud Beasley Elementary School 9/25
McQueen High School 9/25
Desert Heights Elementary School 9/25
Grace Warner Elementary School 9/28
Nancy Gomes Elementary School 9/29
Marvin Picollo School 9/29
Westergard Elementary School 10/1
From Washoe County School District