An outbreak of the stomach flu at a far northwest suburban elementary and middle school has resulted in hundreds of student absences over the last three days.
A total of 957 absences have been reported at Westfield Community School in Algonquin since symptoms were first reported late last week. The illness, a type of norovirus, causes vomiting, diarrhea and fever.
The spike began Thursday after 254 students were absent from the school, which consists of separate elementary and middle schools. The following day, those numbers ballooned to include 262 elementary and 223 middle students. The school has a total enrollment of 1,596 students.
Absentee numbers declined Monday to include 76 elementary and 142 middle school students, with the majority including reports of stomach-related symptoms, according to Allison Strupeck, director of communications at Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300.
The presence of norovirus was confirmed Friday after investigators from the Kane County Health Department analyzed stool and vomit samples from sick children with parents’ permission, county health department spokesman Tom Schlueter said.
“It’s the single-most common gastrointestinal illness there is,” he said. “It easily spreads, particularly in these closed environments.”
The virus lives on surfaces such as tabletops, railings, elevators buttons, wheelchairs and doorknobs for days. It can spread as a food-borne illness or by person-to-person contact.
The outbreak at Westfield was likely spread through contact, Schlueter said.
Those afflicted with the illness are recommended to stay home until at least 24 to 48 hours after the symptoms have subsided. The viral infection is very contagious, and commonly pops up at places where large numbers of people gather, including nursing homes and schools.
The school underwent a cleansing Thursday that included “scrubbing virtually every surface at Westfield that the human skin contacts,” Strupeck said. The same routine took place Friday, and additional cleaning was done over the weekend in accordance with the recommendations from health officials.
There is no vaccine for the virus, and preventative measures focus on proper hygiene.
“Washing your hands is the most important thing,” Schlueter said. “It sounds pretty basic, but that is how it spreads.”
In McHenry County, norovirus cases have remained relatively low since a November 2010 outbreak at three nursing homes sickened 138 people, sent eight to the hospital and caused some of the long-term care facilities to refuse new admissions.
No schools have reported a more than 10-percent increase in cases, the percent at which health officials consider it a serious problem, county health department spokeswoman Debra Quackenbush said.
Lake County saw a spike in norovirus outbreaks late last fall, according to health officials. There have been no recent cases.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times