Colorado school closures prompt local health officials to urge norovirus precautions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Citing reports of increased absenteeism at local schools, public health officials are eager to get the word out about preventing a potential outbreak of norovirus.
Also known as the “stomach bug,” norovirus is the suspected culprit that closed all of Mesa County Valley District’s 46 schools this week.
Kari Ladrow, health department director for Routt and Moffat counties, said local health officials are working with school districts on preventative measures as well educational outreach.
“Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread quickly in settings where people come in close contact with each other, such as schools, childcare centers, long-term care facilities and other close quarters,” Ladrow said in a news release.
Most cases go undiagnosed and don’t require medical care, Ladrow said, though according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, norovirus contributes to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths each year in the United States.
As of Thursday afternoon, there had not been any patients with norovirus admitted at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center this season, said UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek.
“Norovirus causes acute vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps,” Ladrow said. “While most people with norovirus get better within one to three days, the virus can make a person feel extremely ill with vomiting and diarrhea many times a day.”
There is a danger of dehydration, she said, especially in children and elderly people, as well as those with other illnesses.
“Norovirus usually has an abrupt onset and the symptoms will last at least two to three days,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, public health medical officer for Routt County.
“There is no curative treatment for it. Treatment is only supportive, such as maintaining hydration,” Harrington continued. “Antibiotics do not do anything for this or other viral diarrhea illnesses. It should not cause bloody diarrhea. Bloody diarrhea should prompt a person to seek medical attention.”
With 22,000 students, Mesa County is the largest school district in western Colorado. District officials made the decision to close schools for the rest of this week and keep them closed next week for the Thanksgiving break, during which district officials said they hope to do a thorough cleaning and stop the spread of the illness
“We are taking this highly unusual action because this virus is extremely contagious and spreading quickly across our schools,” the school district’s Nursing Coordinator Tanya Marvin said in a news release Wednesday. “In addition, it appears that there is now a second, related virus that is affecting students, some of whom have already been ill in recent weeks. The combination of the two has created an unprecedented spread of illness.”
Ladrow points out that norovirus is a common seasonal occurrence within communities. Closing 46 schools is an unusually drastic measure related to the common virus but can serve as a reminder to take some additional hygiene steps. Namely, wash your hands and handle food safely, Ladrow advised. And if you think you have it, avoid public places.
Harrington offered this advice.
“Wash hands with soap and water. Norovirus is not killed by alcohol or regular cleaning agents. Surfaces can be cleaned with bleach solutions,” Harrington said. “People with a norovirus infection should stay away from restaurant work or preparing food until their symptoms have been resolved for at least 48 hours. Infants and young children should stay home from daycare or school until stools become formed or they have two or fewer bowel movements a day.”