Local students are expected to return to John Adams Middle School (JAMS) on Monday after a contagious illness swept through a group of students and parents late last week.
Public Health officials suspect the symptoms could have been caused by Norovirus but tests are ongoing and no official cause had been released by press time. JAMS closed on Friday and the school was cleaned over the weekend.
In a statement sent to parents last week, SMMUSD said 80 children and 10 adults where showing symptoms after returning from a trip to Yosemite. Experts said the disease spreads very quickly and while it could have been present at the trip site, it was equally possible one individual was unknowingly exposed to the virus days before the trip and it simply spread in the close quarters.
If the illness is Norovirus, it can spread quickly and officials said closing school on Friday would help prevent the outbreak from extending to other individuals because the three day gap would allow most of the infected individuals to show symptoms and then remove themselves from contact with others.
Norovirus is easily transmitted person to person and is the major cause of diarrhea in the United States. It can be spread through direct contact or through contaminated food and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all foodborne illness in the U.S. can be attributed to Norovirus.
Dr. Paul Krogstad, a professor of pediatric infectious disease at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA said there are about a million cases per year and about 50-70,000 of those results in a hospitalization. The disease is responsible for between 600 and 800 deaths per year. Those most likely to die are the very young and the very old. The danger in both cases isn’t the disease itself but complications from dehydration and those complications are more severe in the tiny bodies of newborns and in the elderly who might have already compromised health.
“If you’re in the middle, it is uncomfortable and an annoying disease but one that is seldom dangerous to an individual,” he said.
He said simple eating and drinking to keep up with fluid loss is enough to get most people through the relatively short window. Those who are at risk should seek medical attention and can often be treated through drinking or in rare cases, intravenous fluids.
“There’s no special treatment, it only requires supportive treatment to address the loss of fluids and electrolytes lost. Making that correction allows the short lived, self-limited illness to run its course, no pun intended, in two to three days at the very most,” he said.
According to the CDC, the virus causes the stomach and/or intestines to become inflamed. This leads to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
Krogstad said several references indicate that norovirus will persist on hard surfaces for several weeks at levels high enough to continue an outbreak. Room temperature and drying do not rapidly inactive the virus so extensive cleaning of surfaces with hypochlorite bleach or other known-effective disinfectants is recommended.
He said the school’s response was entirely reasonable and a valid attempt at addressing both the incubation period and virus’ ability to persist.
“Knowing that some of these kids did go back, they are trying to break the chain. The school in contact with the Department of Public Health is taking very reasonable steps to interrupt the chain of transmission,” he said.
Parents who suspect their child has the illness can take steps at home to prevent its spread. Enforcing proper hand hygiene is important as is washing food before eating, cooking food properly, avoiding food preparation or care for others when sick, washing laundry and cleaning contaminated surfaces. The CDC recommends a chlorine bleach solution with 5-25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water (or another disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency).