ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Several St. Johns County schools have seen an increase in children experiencing symptoms similar to norovirus, a district spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The students have been vomiting and experiencing diarrhea.
“It can happen to anybody. It does not discriminate,” Dr. Saman Soleymani said of the virus. “Norovirus is a very highly contagious virus that sometimes the name is called the winter stomach bug. Essentially, it happens during this time.”
Soleymani said that his office has seen three to four cases of the illness a day, as compared to the typical one to two cases a week.
The schools with the most ill students are Liberty Pines Academy, Patriot Oaks Academy, Switzerland Point Middle School and Cunningham Creek Elementary.
All of those schools have increased the cleaning responsibilities of their custodial staff to more proactively disinfect common surface areas.
Teachers are also allowing students more time for hand washing, and information technology staff members are showing administrators how to properly clean computer equipment that is used by many students in computer labs.
A letter was sent home to parents at the schools, warning them of the increased illnesses. The letter said the district is in contact with the St. Johns County Health Department, because the symptoms are similar to norovirus.
“When you see those typical symptoms during the winter months, it’s an agreed assumption it is norovirus,” Soleymani said. “There is no way in the office to diagnose it unless by taking a stool sample.”
Norovirus symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping.
Some students have had a low-grade fever. The symptoms of norovirus illness usually begin about 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus.
“We need your help to stop further spread of illness in our community,” the letter said.
Because norovirus spreads easily from person to person through direct contact, surface contact or contaminated food or liquids, parents are asked to keep their children home from school for at least 24 hours after vomiting and diarrhea symptoms have stopped.
There is no treatment or vaccine for norovirus, but officials encourage those who are ill to drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost and prevent dehydration.
Officials ask parents to make sure they and their children are washing their hands frequently, they are thoroughly cleaning any clothes or surfaces contaminated by vomit or diarrhea, and they are not sharing food or drinks if they are ill.
Soleymani said 20 to 30 seconds of rigorous hand washing with soap will kill norovirus, and bleach detergents should be used on counter top surfaces.