July 2, 2012 — A norovirus is likely to blame for a recent outbreak of gastrointestinal illness, which has sickened 107 middle school and high school students attending youth sports camps at the University of Notre Dame. The kids all became suddenly ill around Wednesday, June 27, with symptoms of severe stomach flu, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. School officials are now working with the St. Joseph County Health Department to sanitize communal areas where the virus could easily be spread.
All of the kids were participating in youth camps for football, women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse, hockey, and women’s tennis. Many of the children were living in dormitories, with communal living and eating areas, where norovirus can easily spread. This is the first widespread outbreak of norovirus Notre Dame sports camps.
Health officials say they do not know exactly what caused the outbreak. It could have been food poisoning or a contaminated surface that the children touched. When someone is infected with norovirus, it grows in their gastrointestinal tract. Their vomit and stools contain large numbers of the virus. The disease is transmitted when sick people, or people who have recently been sick, or people who are caring for other sick people, do not wash their hands properly. If they prepare food, the virus can easily sicken large numbers of people who eat contaminated food. The virus can also be transmitted by touching a surface that has been contaminated, and then touching the face, eyes, or mouth.
People who have been sick with norovirus can still transmit the virus for several days after their symptoms disappear. As many sick children go home, it is possible that they will spread the norovirus to other parts of the country.
The University of Notre Dame sent a letter to all parents, advising them to take the following steps to reduce the risk of norovirus infection:
- Wash hands thoroughly and often, using soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Hand sanitizers with alcohol are also useful for frequently cleaning hands.
- When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Then discard the tissue in a trash can.
- Try not to touch your eyes, face, or mouth if possible
- Do not share water bottles, mouth guards, and eating utensils
Norovirus is not always the cause of food poisoning, but it is a common cause. This virus is responsible for more than 20 million cases of gastroenteritis every year in the United States. Most healthy people recover within 1-3 days. The most serious complication is dehydration, which can be life-threatening for young children, older people, pregnant women, or people with a weakened immune system.
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