BABYLON, N.Y. (PIX11) – An unusual number of sick calls came in last Friday for students at Babylon Junior-Senior High School.
Almost 90 students in the district stayed home because of gastrointestinal illness. As a result, Babylon Schools contacted the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Dr. Gregson Pigott is the health commissioner and said the students had similar symptoms.
“It was stomachache and vomiting, and some had diarrhea, so it’s like, ‘Hmm, what’s going on here?'” Dr. Pigott said.
The department sent their public health sanitarians who work in the food unit to inspect the school and see if something could be traced to the cafeteria. Nothing turned up.
“What we find is that these norovirus outbreaks, or what we call typical stomach bugs, are very common and they don’t really spread through food per se,” Pigott said. “It’s basically someone that is sick that maybe has vomiting, diarrhea and then uses the bathroom and doesn’t really wash their hands thoroughly.”
The school’s custodial staff sanitized surfaces over the week. Then, on Saturday, the school sent a note to parents. Part of it reads:
“While most of these reports are coming from our high school population, we want to inform the community and encourage everyone to take proper precautions to avoid casual contact.”
Norovirus outbreaks have happened on cruise ships, and what makes it different from other gastrointestinal bugs is how highly infectious it is. Dr. Sharon Nachman is the division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
“You don’t need a lot of virus to transmit the infections,” Nachman said. “Just a simple touch from someone to someone else or touching an infected object to your face will get you that infection, so small pathogen load equals easily transmissible.”
On Thursday, attendance improved with 112 student absences, down from 253 absences on Monday, so the virus is on its way out.
If your child gets infected with the virus, doctors said the most important thing is to ensure they’re hydrated. When it comes to prevention, one tip that can’t be drilled enough is to wash your hands properly.