Norovirus hits FPS

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 18, 2015

FARMINGTON HILLS — A North Farmington High School staff member who contracted norovirus recently is back to work and well, a district official said.

NFHS Principal Joe Greene sent out a districtwide email March 6 informing the community that the staff member had the stomach virus and the Maintenance Department would disinfect the school that weekend.

“We do not want to alarm you, but rather want to keep you well-informed so that we can keep everyone healthy and ready to learn,” Greene said in the email.

The symptoms of norovirus include a sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping. A low-grade fever could also occur. Symptoms usually last 24-72 hours, according to the email.

Diane Bauman, the school district’s director of community relations, said the district follows all Oakland County Health Department public protocols for the illness.

She added that the district informed students of preventative measures, such as washing hands.

Bauman also said she has not heard of any other cases throughout the district.

“As soon as we were alerted, we set up a cleaning schedule,” Bauman said. “Our goal is to keep our students and staff healthy. The staff member is doing fine and back to work.”

The district performed extra cleaning by using a hospital-grade disinfectant that cleans and controls the hazard of cross-contamination from environmental surfaces, among other cleaning measures, such as disinfecting doorknobs throughout the school.

“This plan of action is in alignment with what the Oakland County Health Department advises,” Bauman said in an emailed statement.

Norovirus is contagious and easily spread from person to person, most commonly by hand-to-hand contact and surfaces contaminated with feces and vomit, according to the Oakland County Health Department. Outbreaks can also result from water or food contaminated with the virus.

Norovirus symptoms usually begin 24-48 hours after exposure, but can appear as early as 10 hours after exposure, according to health officials.

Frequent, thorough hand-washing can help prevent an infection; alcohol-based hand sanitizer doesn’t kill norovirus and should be a backup for soap and water, according to Dr. Sanford J. Vieder, chairman and medical director at Botsford Hospital Emergency and Trauma Center.

“It does spread pretty quickly, and typically, transmission is within 48 hours of the infected individual contacting another, assuming that the contact is significant,” Vieder said of norovirus. “So this virus is very common and very hearty. In general, it is not dangerous for most individuals.”

Vieder added that while the virus is “certainly unpleasant,” it is not typically life-threatening.

“The biggest problem we see with it is dehydration, because you just lose so much fluid with ... diarrhea, nausea and vomiting that often comes with it,” he added.

He said the most likely reason the virus didn’t spread at NFHS is that more people are attuned to good, sanitary practices, such as hand washing and cleaning surfaces.

“With the teacher and students, in particular, there is generally not close contact,” Vieder said.

Vieder added that the fall and winter months are typically peak times for norovirus.

“We are certainly getting toward the end of that season, but it is not impossible or improbable that you would see cases throughout the year, and especially if they are in a closed community … where people may be at a summer camp, prisons or even cruise ships (where) the risk of spread is much higher,” Vieder said. 

He added that Botsford’s emergency department saw a spike in norovirus-like illnesses over the past several weeks, although he could not confirm numbers.

“We’ve had certainly higher numbers of norovirus-like illnesses,” Vieder said. “We don’t test for it on a routine basis any longer, mostly because it is not really helpful in terms of treatment.”

He said that aside from providing treatment with supportive care, there is no specific treatment because antibiotics don’t work.

“It is ineffective because it is a virus, not a bacteria — those are all reasons why we don’t test for it routinely,” he said. “The biggest thing is it always comes down to how do you prevent the spread of any infection, and that is just having good personal hygiene: hand washing frequently, making sure that common surfaces at offices and at home are clean.”

For more information, go to www.oakgov.com/health.