Why Norovirus is likely the mystery illness at MHS

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) – Manhattan High School’s west campus is trying to stop the spread of what they believe may be the norovirus.

Wednesday, a Kansas Department of Agriculture official ordered the school to thoroughly disinfect everything from the kitchen to the cafeteria and water-fountain. Twenty-one more people went home sick from Manhattan High Wednesday. Now a week-and-a-half into the outbreak of this mysterious illness, more than 120 students and staff have been sickened.

What you may not know is how common norovirus is. You more likely have heard it referred to as “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.”

Dr. Tom Friedman, CDC Director “Norovirus is highly contagious, hard to stop, and causes severe vomit and diarrhea,” Dr. Tom Friedman, the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Those are symptoms students and staff at Manhattan High who’ve become sick have described. Norovirus is fairly common according to CDC Director Friedman.

“Each year about 20 million people in the us get infected and sick from norovirus, most from close contact with infected people or from contaminated food.”

Wednesday, a representative from the Kansas Department of Agriculture met with the principal, school nurse, kitchen manager and head custodian. They’ll now clean and sanitize all kitchen surfaces, cafeteria tables and chairs, water fountains and restrooms with a bleach solution as a prevention plan. While the Department of Agriculture has directed MHS to clean and sanitize for noro, local and state health officials said today they’re not yet convinced.

“We’re looking at a wide range of possibilities,” Riley County Health Department Director Jennifer Green said at a news conference. “We’re not really ruling anything out just yet.”

The stomach bug is known to spread quickly in restaurants, on cruise ships, and in this case: schools. There’s no drug to treat it–the virus simply has to run its course.

“Make sure you stay away from others until a couple of days after your symptoms resolve,” Dr. Seth Podolsky of the Cleveland Clinic advises.

The good news is, many students and staff who’ve fallen ill have already returned to school. However, the norovirus can be serious; causing some people to be hospitalized and can even lead to death.

Last fall, a major noro outbreak of about 1,800 people at nearly 20 public schools in Reno, Nevada shut down school and cleaning proved costly for the district according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. Multiple other schools have also had to temporarily close in recent years.
Manhattan High School has attached a norovirus fact sheet on their website from the CDC. However, the school’s principal reminded parents that neither state nor local health officials have confirmed the cause of the illness.

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