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11/17/2011

Norovirus returns.... #RochMN

More than 100 students stayed home from John Adams Middle School here in Rochester, Minnesota Wednesday (November 16, 2011).
The reason? The most-common foodborne illness in the country — a suspected flare-up of norovirus.
School officials indicate they plan to take aggressive action to interrupt spread of the virus — right before the upcoming holiday by:
• Restricting the sharing of foods brought from student's/staff's homes
• Cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces with cleaners effective 
against Noroviruses.
• Reviewing our food handling procedures with staff.

Noroviruses "are a major cause of gastrointestinal illness in closed and crowded environments, such as hospitals, nursing homes and cruise ships," according to MayoClinic.com. 

"Our school has been receiving increasing reports of students and staff 
experiencing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea that may be attributed to 
Norovirus which has been circulating in the community recently," a letter to parents and guardians of John Adams students says.

Put your fork down and steel your stomach before your read the next sentences if you're just in the middle of a meal. 

"Noroviruses commonly spread through food or water contaminated by fecal matter during preparation," Mayo Clinic notes. Yep, that's right, you get sick by eating the stool somebody else neglected to wash off his hands after he used the toilet.

The winter 2008/2009, the last majore norovirus occurrence, was "one of the worst Norovirus virus seasons in Olmsted County in 25 years." 

At that time, about 100 to 200 people became ill during four specific outbreaks, plus "many, many" additional individuals who were sickened in the community as a result.

In 2009, Olmsted County listed these still-relevant symptoms on its website that include "severe and frequent projectile vomiting and/or multiple bouts of diarrhea that last about 1 1/2 to 2 days for most people and occur approximately 30 to 36 hours after exposure. Abdominal pain, nausea and headache are also common symptoms, but fever is mild or absent."

Mayo Clinic suggests symptoms can start as early as 24 hours after exposure.

"Norovirus symptoms may last a few days, but most people recover completely without treatment," the clinic advises. "However, in some people — especially infants, older adults and people with underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes norovirus spreading from person-to-person via food, water and contaminated surfaces touched by an infected person.

If you're getting ready to host holiday guests, this is a good time to think about how you'll keep your loved ones from getting sick. Food safety advocates remind you to scrub your hands really well (sing Happy Birthday twice per wash and dry hands with paper towel) between each different food item you are preparing. Maybe you'll decide to wear gloves. But you'll still want to wash your hands vigorously.

But be sure to change gloves them between menu items so you don't cross contaminate.
Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
If you're serving buffet-style, consider placing tongs, spoons or forks with each serving plate — even with snacks like potato chips or fudge bars. Or, have one person with super-clean hands circulate chair-to-chair with a serving plate and use tongs to serve from the serving plate onto each person's dish.

Offer hand sanitizer bottles at strategic locations. And when you get ready to serve you can call out, "everybody wash your hands and we'll sit down to eat!"

The CDC says food handlers who are sick can easily spread norovirus to many people. So it's especially important if you're going to host a holiday party, offer to help out or work in a restaurant to make sure your hands are well scrubbed or that you wear gloves, especially if you've already been sick.

"Noroviruses are found in the vomit and stool of infected people from the day they start to feel ill, and the virus continues to be present in the stool for as long as 2 to 3 weeks after an infected person feels better," the CDC says.

So wash you hands, wash your hands, wash your hands! <--- say with the rhythm of dash-away, dash-away, dash-away all! Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands — all!

John Adams offered additional resource, including the CDCMinnesota Department of Health (651-201-5414) and Olmsted County Public Health (328-7500).

Pulse on Health
By Jeff Hansel, member Association of Health Care Journalists
Health Reporter for the PostBulletin.com, 18 1st Ave. S.E. in Rochester, Minnesota 55904 
Twitter Hansel's Pulse: @Jeff Hansel

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