ELYRIA — Are you sick? Are your school-age children ill? Is “intestinal mayhem” involved?
It could be that a stomach illness first identified in Ohio almost 50 years ago is once again working its way through the school-age populace and their parents.
First-person accounts and anecdotal reports of episodes of sudden vomiting and diarrhea from several adults with school-age children in Elyria had the bug spreading through the youth population last week.
Lorain County Health Commissioner David Covell said the most likely culprit for any “stomach bug” going around this time of year is norovirus.
Also known as the “winter vomiting bug,” it originally was called the Norwalk virus after the city of Norwalk in Huron County, where it was first confirmed to have caused an outbreak in 1972.
The illness “spreads like wildfire in closed settings” such as schools or nursing homes, involves vomiting and diarrhea that could lead to dehydration, and typically runs its full course within 48 to 72 hours, Covell said.
Norovirus “moves through around the same time the flu does. One of the problems is in schools, a younger child gets it, then the older child gets it” and it can be passed to parents or other household members, Covell said. There is no simple reason why it shows up more frequently in the winter months, he added.
The disease is passed on through a “fecal-oral” route: Someone uses the restroom and doesn’t adequately wash their hands or wash them at all.
“The Holy Grail of public health” is wash your hands after using the restroom, Covell said. “Washing your hands thoroughly is the most important piece of advice.”
Though Lorain County public health officials don’t typically track the number of cases of norovirus unless it is a public health hazard such as an outbreak due to improper food handling, Covell said many of the county’s school districts are staffed by its nurses.
“If there is a major outbreak, we can give general guidance saying ‘Hey, it might be time to close the schools’” after nurses in the school districts meet and compare notes “and try to make sure we’re taking extra precautions,” he said.
So far this season, Covell said he has not received any reports of major outbreaks of the bug that would lead him to recommend school closures or countermeasures.
Elyria’s outbreak appeared to have settled down as of Monday, when Elyria schools had a 92.5 percent attendance rate, spokeswoman Amy Higgins said.
“Absences that were logged can’t be attributed to any one specific illness,” she said. “This is an excellent attendance rate on a typical Monday.”