Fairfax ES sees outbreak of ‘highly contagious’ virus

Editor’s Note: Check back on Tuesday, Feb. 28 for Hank’s followup story with more information on how to clean Norovirus from your home.

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

FAIRFAX, Va. – Willow Springs Elementary School was scoured with bleach and other cleaners over the weekend due to a virus, which could be a particularly nasty stomach illness, that kept dozens of students and staff at home Monday.

Roughly 100 students and staff were first sent home on Friday from the Fairfax County public school following the spread of what experts believe could be Norovirus. The Centers for Disease Control says the virus is “highly contagious,” and causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, among other symptoms.

Anyone can catch the virus, the CDC says, and youth, seniors and those who are already ill are particularly vulnerable to contracting it and suffering from severe dehydration.

These kinds of viral illnesses are easily spread through contact with someone who has it or with a surface that been touched by someone who is sick, says Dr Peter Troell, an epidemiologist from the Fairfax County Heath Department.

Frequent handwashing and using hand sanitizer are the best ways to prevent the illness, says Troell.

Washing surfaces at home can also prevent spread of the disease, he says, though that may not be practical after contracting the illness. The CDC adds food servers are “a particular risk” because they handle food and drinks consumed by others.

Those who are sick should go home and stay there, Troell says. It can last 24 hours to 48 hours, but it can take another 24 hours after feeling fully recovered before those with Norovirus are no longer contagious.

“If you are sick on Thursday you really shouldn’t go to work on Friday, stay at home for the weekend and relax,” says Troell.

Despite the illness at Willow Springs and a similar outbreak at George Washington University last week, school officials say attendance has been about normal in area school systems in the last few weeks.

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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