An elementary school in Alabama was forced to close after nearly 800 children and half of its staff called in sick with a mysterious stomach virus.
Fairhope West Elementary School, which is the third largest elementary school in the county, closed for the rest of the week while it undergoes deep cleaning.
Concerned parents, some filmed wearing face masks, told reporters the situation was “very alarming” and that they had “never experienced” this situation before.
State health officials are now investigating the outbreak, but believe it is most likely caused by norovirus, a common stomach virus that is increasing in the US.
Phillis Spencer, who has grandchildren at the school, said the situation was “very alarming”.
Fairhope West Elementary School (pictured) is closed today and tomorrow for deep cleaning as officials try to control the outbreak.
This virus is very contagious and is easily spread by contact with surfaces contaminated with feces, such as door handles and mosquito nets.
Patients suffer symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea for one to two days before the symptoms disappear.
Baldwin County Schools, which runs the elementary, said not all students and staff away from their desks were actually sick, and many stayed home to avoid contracting the virus.
The Alabama Department of Health is testing and distributing swabs to patients. Results are expected to be reported in the coming weeks.
A nearby school, Fairhope East Elementary, also said it is seeing an increase in norovirus cases, and the principal said she is “monitoring the situation.”
Nationally, at least two other schools have had to close due to norovirus outbreaks, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Last month, two schools in Dallas, Texas, also had to close due to a gastrointestinal illness.
Diego Moreno, whose son goes to Fairhope West Elementary School, who goes through sixth grade (or 12 years old), told reporters that he had to take his son to the hospital.
‘Yesterday, our son vomited four or five times throughout the night.
“And today we went to the hospital and they told us that many children are sick right now.”
Philis Spencer, whose grandchildren are in school, is also told reporters: ‘(This is) very alarming, very alarming.
Diego Moreno, who has a son at school, said his son was awake vomiting four or five times during the night and that he was taken to the hospital.
School officials believe the outbreak is caused by norovirus.
“I have never experienced this in all the years I have had my own children and these grandchildren, so… very alarming indeed.”
She was also filmed wearing a mask as she ran to school to pick up the youngsters.
Norovirus cases are rising across the country, with 12 percent of swabs now detecting the virus compared to nine percent in November.
Cases are rising most rapidly in the South, where the percentage of swabs detecting the virus is almost 10 percent compared to seven percent last month.
And in the Northeast, where nearly 14 percent of tests in the region came back positive for norovirus in early February, up from about 4 percent in November before the outbreak began.
This data is based on swabs taken from people in hospitals.
The above shows how infections are increasing rapidly in the southern United States, although they are still below last year’s levels.
The graph above shows the number of norovirus outbreaks recorded in the US this year (red line) compared to the last three years (blue shaded area).
Dr. Andrea Garcia, an expert on gastrointestinal diseases at the American Medical Association, said yesterday: “Nationally, norovirus positivity rates have actually been hovering between 10 and 12.5 percent since early January.
“Those cases occur more frequently in the colder months, such as late fall, winter and then early spring.”
Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Tyler said in a message to parents: “Due to the number of staff and students who are absent, the number of people experiencing symptoms and in an effort to help contain the contagion, unfortunately we need to close the building. below.
‘While we’re away, We will be carrying out a deep cleaning of the school so that when students return next week, it will be completely disinfected.
‘We understand the inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your understanding. Please take care of yourselves and your families.”