Letter on school district’s website warns parents about stomach bug

Last updated: March 11. 2014 11:57PM - 1505 Views
By - tkellar@civitasmedia.com

Susan Werner, MD, primary care physician at Geisinger-Nanticoke. Submitted photo.
Susan Werner, MD, primary care physician at Geisinger-Nanticoke. Submitted photo.
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How to prevent the spread of infection

The letter sent out by the Hazleton Area School District provided a number of tips on how to prevent the spread of the Norovirus infection. Some include:

• Keep a separate towel for ill family members.

• Dispose of used tissues promptly.

• Wash soiled clothing, bath linen and towels in the washing machine using hot water.

• Clean and disinfect bathtubs and washbasins after use.

• Keep children away from other children and people that might be particularly vulnerable, such as the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and those with suppressed immune systems.

SUGARLOAF — A stomach illness has taken hold of the Hazleton Area School District.

A letter to parents found on the district’s website identifies the sickness a “norovirus,” also called the stomach bug. The letter states that the sickness is common at this time of the year in schools, nurseries and in the community.

Superintendent Francis Antonelli said the district examined absenteeism numbers. On Tuesday, 129 out of almost 1,100 students were absent from Hazleton Valley Elementary/Middle School, and about 200 were absent on Monday. An additional 20 students were sent home on Tuesday after displaying symptoms.

Antonelli said absentee numbers have been normal at other schools in the district.

About the virus

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website said the norovirus causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses each year and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations. The illness is also responsible for 570-800 deaths each year.

Norovirus is also the most common cause of food borne-disease outbreaks in the United States, according to the CDC.

Susan Werner, a primary care physician at Geisinger-Nanticoke, said the illness is highly contagious and that anyone can get it. There is no treatment.

“It pretty much just has to run its course,” she said.

Symptoms that Werner attributed to norovirus include abdominal pains, a low-grade fever, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Watery or loose diarrhea is also possible. Werner said symptoms typically start 24 to 48 hours after being exposed.

Even after symptoms stop, Werner said the virus can be spread for up to three days.

Despite the nasty symptoms, Werner said the illness is very common. She said outbreaks are common in cruise ships, hospitals and schools due to how contagious the illness is. The illness will typically run its course in one to three days in a normal, healthy person.

Complications and deaths by the disease, unless the infected person is in a high-risk group, are rare, she said.

Get well soon

Ill children are encouraged to get plenty of rest, drink fluids and stay home until they were well enough to return to school. The district urges parents to keep children suffering from diarrhea and vomiting at home for at least 24 to 48 hours.

Werner encouraged those who display symptoms to drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. Infants, the elderly or those with a suppressed immune systems should consider seeing a doctor. Werner also said those who display symptoms for more than a few days should also visit a doctor.

Antonelli said the district is working with the Department of Health to ensure the proper precautions are taken.

“Our buildings are sanitized at the end of each and every school day,” he said. That included cafeterias, common instruction areas, high-traffic areas and the school buses. “They’re telling us … that we’re doing what we should be doing.”

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