GI virus circulating at area schools

A gastro-intestinal illness that has been circulating in Northwest Ottawa County is no cause for alarm, according to Ottawa County Health Department officials, although it's been a source of digestive discomfort for some local residents and students.
Marie Havenga
Feb 7, 2012

There has been a recent statewide trend in confirmed Norovirus cases. Norovirus symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping; and sometimes low-grade fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches.

Although many people may call the above “the stomach flu,” there is no such thing — according to Dr. Paul Heidel, medical director of the Ottawa County Health Department.

“It is an intestinal virus,” said Heidel, adding that no exact numbers are available because most cases in the general population go unreported. “We’ve had a few outbreaks in the community and several outbreaks in the state.”

Norovirus can be spread through food, person-to-person contact, or by contaminated surfaces. Symptoms typically begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Anyone who has contracted the virus should not prepare or serve food to anyone until three days after symptoms have subsided.

Heidel said the “flu shot” is defenseless against Norovirus; the shot is only for respiratory strains. But the medical director said proper hygiene can help ward off the illness.

“The best thing is good hand washing,” he said. “Bleach everything down — doorknobs, countertops, anything somebody could touch. It is a fecal-oral transmission. It is shed in the stool for up to two weeks. Even though a person does recover, they can still pass this virus on. It’s a very hardy virus.”

Area schools are taking precautions with extra bleach and scrubbing.

Kristen Barnes, student services spokeswoman for Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School, said staff is encouraging students to wash their hands frequently.

She said the number of absences due to stomach illness are about the same as last year at this time.

“But it seems like, instead of being a 24-hour virus, a lot of the kids are down for about four days,” Barnes said. “Obviously it’s contagious because one day sixth-graders will call in, the next day it’s all eighth-graders.”

Barnes said the virus is hitting 3-5 new students a day.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

For more information on Norovirus, click here.

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