SALT LAKE CITY — With the norovirus spreading in schools along the Wasatch Front, state epidemiologists said reported cases may just be starting because the virus is so contagious.
Norovirus is common, but it has hit at an unusual time of year. Officials said there may be another reason Utah has experienced an outbreak right now.
“We see it every year,” said Cindy Burnett, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.
Burnett said the norovirus commonly causes outbreaks in nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships. It has been hard for health officials to know whether the norovirus outbreak was really intensifying in Utah because it’s not an illness that doctors and schools report to the health department.
New norovirus strain possible in Utah
Burnett said once kids in school have it, it may already be more widespread in the community.
“It’s not unusual to see this virus,” said Burnett. “It is unusual to see it at this time of year. It’s also known as winter vomiting disease. It’s a virus that we typically see outbreaks of in the winter months.”
The virus could be adapting.
“It may be that there is a new strain of norovirus that is hitting Utah that people don’t have any immunity to,” she said. “So, that might be causing the outbreaks.”
Burnett said samples from patients were being tested to reveal whether this was a new strain.
“If there is a new strain in Utah, we will likely see more cases we go into the winter time,” said Burnett.
She said it was important to take steps to prevent it from spreading further.
“It is a really contagious virus, and it will spread quickly into the communities if people don’t take precautions,” she said, starting in schools.
Sick children should stay home from school
“It will spread very easily in schools,” she said. “So, we really want a sick kid to be staying home until they’re not infectious anymore.”
Burnett said we don’t typically see a large public health response to norovirus outbreaks, like we see with the flu or hepatitis. That’s because there are no vaccines or medicines that help.
“The virus can live for a pretty long period of time on doorknobs, keyboards and things like that,” said Burnett. “So, when people have been out in public, they should immediately wash their hands when they get home.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, norovirus is not a reportable disease unless there is an outbreak or cluster. The onset of symptoms is quick, and the duration is usually quick. Many people typically do not seek medical care. As a result, norovirus is frequently under-diagnosed.
Officials warn the public if you’re not already washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, it’s time to start. Stay home if you’re sick. Don’t prepare food for people if you’re sick and for several days afterward. Keep sick kids home from school.