Communicable illnesses spread quickly after local schools begin

Jennifer Wirth | Lehi Free Press

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A new school year has begun and for many students, teachers, and parents, so has the battle to stay healthy. Just a few weeks after classes began, the Utah County Health Department issued two warnings about communicable illnesses affecting local schools. One letter warned of the Norovirus, a highly contagious and fast-moving virus, and the other warned of rising cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough).

On September 5, a letter from the Utah County Health Department was sent to parents and staff members at all public schools in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain, warning of the reported outbreak of the Norovirus. The Norovirus is highly contagious and causes vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus spreads through direct contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water, touching contaminated surfaces, and even breathing the fumes from an infected person’s vomit. In the letter, the UCHD warned that the virus is fast moving and can quickly affect large groups of people. “If your child has any of the symptoms of norovirus, we ask that you do not send him/her to school until 72 hours after vomiting and diarrhea have ended. Even if they just have an upset stomach, please keep them home while they are feeling ill, as it is possible that they may vomit while at school.”

With hundreds of people affected in schools just west of Lehi, the primary concern is to stop the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the best way to stay healthy and avoid contracting the norovirus is through proper handwashing, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetable and food prep areas, and staying home when feeling ill. According to the CDC website, proper handwashing is one of the most important ways to prevent getting sick and spreading germs to others. “Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and always before eating or preparing food.” While proper handwashing is simple, young people and children are less likely to wash hands thoroughly, making schools the perfect environment for outbreaks.

That same day, parents and staff in the Alpine School District were sent letters again from the Utah County Health Department concerning the increase in reported pertussis (whooping cough) cases throughout Utah County. According to the letter, “UCHD is experiencing an increase of pertussis cases, many in infants and young children. UCHD anticipates even more cases now that school is back in session. The number of cases at this point in the year is almost double that of the same timeframe in 2017.”

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a contagious disease, characterized by cold symptoms and a persistent cough. Pertussis can be life-threatening in children.

Vaccination is the best prevention again pertussis. Aislynn Tolman-Hill, Public Information Officer for the Utah County Health Department said “The vaccine doesn’t create a lifelong immunity to pertussis. Infants and young children are very susceptible to the disease. We have seen a lot of adults, especially people that are going to be grandparents, receive the booster vaccine (Tdap). This is the best way to provide the proper protection for infants that are not fully vaccinated.” In previously immunized teenagers and adults, whooping cough frequently presents as a very persistent and sometimes severe cough that lasts for weeks. It may also present as a very mild cough that may be mistaken as a viral respiratory illness.

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