A seasonal surge in the highly contagious stomach bug norovirus is immobilizing families and even prompting school shutdowns, the Wall Street Journal reports.
St Charles East High School in Chicago’s northwestern suburbs was closed for two days earlier this month after 800 of its 2,500 students called in sick and the Kane County Health Department confirmed the virus was to blame.
“The CDC recommends that people with norovirus be symptom-free for 48 hours before returning to normal activities,” the Chicago Tribune quoted District 303 as saying in a news release. “With that in mind, classes at St. Charles East High School are canceled on Wednesday, January 11 and will resume on Thursday, January 12.”
“We think this is the most infectious group of pathogens that have ever been described,” the Journal quoted Christine Moe, a professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, as saying about this virus.
Still, the increase in cases seen so far this winter has been described as “typical” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average there are 19 million to 21 million cases a year. Symptoms of the virus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, with dehydration the main risk. Most people recover after a few days.
Outside the body, like on surfaces around a classroom, the virus is particularly hardy, hanging around for three to four weeks after being put on those surfaces. Whether the virus could infect a human after that amount of time, however, is not really clear.
The Journal also noted larger-than-typical absences in schools in Greentown, Indiana, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The virus has been described recently in an August article in the journal Science, in which researchers identify some conditions that promote (bile, certain contents in cells in the gastrointestinal tract) and inhibit (heat, irradiation) virus replication. They’re working on the development of anti-norovirus treatments or possibly vaccines.