Norovirus, a highly contagious virus that can make you very, very sick has reared its ugly head in at least one Lincoln County elementary school, and public health officials are very concerned that the disease is spreading.
Children at Yaquina View Elementary School in Newport have been showing the usual symptoms – vomiting and diarrhea – for more than three weeks, said Rebecca Austen, the county’s public health director, but the first official confirmation of the disease came Wednesday.
About 80 of the 400 pupils at Yaquina View have called in sick since May 6.
Lincoln City schools were put on alert after the symptoms started showing up. As of Thursday, nine pupils at Taft Elementary and eight at Oceanlake have reported symptoms of the disease, which is sometimes referred to as “stomach flu.”
Norovirus often lasts only one or two days, Austen said, but it “has a lot of vomiting and diarrhea and it hits you hard and fast.”
Norovirus has not yet been confirmed in Lincoln City, she said. “We are still collecting samples there.”
As with any virus, norovirus cannot be treated with antibiotics (which fight bacteria).
“There is no treatment, which is why control measures are so important,” Austen said. “The virus has a short and intense life cycle in our bodies, but we don’t build up immunity. It just plays itself out.
“It’s highly contagious through any contact at all with the vomit or the diarrhea,” she said.
Disinfectant is essential. Bleach must be used to clean surfaces where someone has vomited, because the virus can live on an unbleached surface “for a long time,” Austen said.
The virus is fairly common, she said, but an outbreak affecting 80 children in a few weeks would be unusual, occurring maybe every five years or so.
The only way for the Health Department to be alerted to the disease is for schools to report the symptoms of students who call in sick.
“Sometimes people question why we are asking about symptoms when they call to excuse their child,” said Taft High School Principal Majalise Tolan, “but it is because we send that symptom data to the Health Department so they can prepare our community and keep people aware.”
Austen said the schools have been very cooperative in getting the word out to all parents.
“The biggest problem is kids coming back to school too soon and reinfecting the others,” she said.
“We don’t want anyone to come back to school within 48 hours of the last symptoms. Some health-care providers say 24 hours, but we’re emphasizing 48.”
She said the schools are doing “heavy duty cleaning,” noting a report of a child throwing up on a bus. The bus had to be disinfected, she said; otherwise the virus would have continued to thrive on the bus seats.