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February 17, 2014

Norovirus outbreak blamed for spike in absences at local elementary

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

While Rochester Community Schools students enjoyed their midwinter break, custodial crews worked to decontaminate Long Meadow Elementary School following a possible outbreak of a highly contagious virus.

District officials noticed something was off after a number of Long Meadow Elementary School students failed show up for school Feb. 13 and 14 — the two days prior to their midwinter break — due to what RCS officials now believe is an outbreak of the norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness.

“We had a significant amount of absences in the morning and we were observing the symptoms — I mean, when kids are throwing up, it’s pretty clear that you are looking at something,” said Debbi Hartman, the district’s community relations director. “As kids were sick and were going home, we contacted the health department and described what we were seeing, and they said that sounds like it’s probably norovirus.”

RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner alerted district parents to the situation in a Feb. 13 email.

“In our ongoing effort to provide accurate information about issues related to student health and safety, I am writing to inform you that we have had many children home sick with what appears to be norovirus, which is a virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea,” he said in the email.

District parents were advised to watch their children closely for symptoms, which can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, as well as a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and tiredness.

The symptoms typically last one to three days, so the Oakland County Health Division recommends that children be kept at home for up to three days after symptoms stop to reduce the spread of the virus.

Norovirus is very contagious and spread easily from person to person, most commonly by hand-to-hand contact and surfaces contaminated with feces and vomit, according to the Oakland County Health Department. Outbreaks can also result from water or food contaminated with the virus.

Norovirus symptoms usually begin 24-48 hours after exposure, but can appear as early as 10 hours after exposure, according to health officials.

Frequent, thorough hand washing can help prevent an infection, but it’s no guarantee. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer doesn’t kill norovirus and should not be a substitute for old-fashioned soap and water, according to experts. Cleaning of potentially contaminated surfaces with a chlorine bleach-based cleaner can further reduce the spread of the virus.

In the event of a communicable disease-related issue within the district, Shaner said, RCS works closely with the Oakland County Health Division. He said the district took advantage of the midwinter break to do a thorough cleaning of the entire school, following health department guidelines. Shaner said the school was disinfected.

“It was cleaned last night, this afternoon and will be again tomorrow,” Shaner explained in a Feb. 14 follow-up email to parents.

The good news, at this point, is that Long Meadow seems to be the only school impacted, according to district officials.

Long Meadow Principal Denise Bereznoff said in an email to parents that she’s hopeful that having the time off will help contain the spread of the virus.

“I am hopeful that the worst of this is behind us when we return to school next Wednesday,” she said.