Brunswick: Norovirus outbreak closes city's elementary and middle schools all week

10:40 PM, May 20, 2013   |    comments
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BRUNSWICK -- 12-year old Mark Anthony Smilor has to wear a medical mask, anytime he's around his 5-month old niece.

Mom's orders.

His mother, Carolyn Smilor, isn't taking any chances, after an outbreak of the highly-contagious norovirus, closed all Brunswick city elementary and middle schools for the rest of this week.

"He's not to go in a room with her, for safety's sake," said Smilor. "Just for a few days to make sure he doesn't have it."

Her son attends Willetts Middle School, one of 10 schools that will be closed, so that the buildings and buses can undergo thorough cleaning and disinfecting, to stop the spread of the illness.

"The numbers are on the rise," said School Superintendent Mike Mayell. "So we thought it was prudent to close the buildings to stop that increased exposure to other students."

School officials believe the outbreak began with a teachers' luncheon at Towslee Elementary school on May 7. More than a dozen teachers became ill.

The illnesses quickly spread to students. On Monday, Mayell says about 55-60 Towslee students were ill, more than 10 percent of the student body. When the other elementary and middle schools began to see a drop in attendance as well, the Medina County Health Department advised the district to shut down all 10 schools.

Classes will resume after Memorial Day, on Tuesday, May 28.

Norovirus, often called the stomach flu, is highly contagious. It causes inflammation of the stomach, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is a leading cause of illness from contaminated food in the United States. Noroviruses have notoriously been linked to cruise ship outbreaks. It was orginally called the "Norwalk Virus," named after Norwalk, Ohio, the location of an outbreak in 1972.

Dr. Amy Edwards, Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician at Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospitals, says there really is no treatment for norovirus, other than rest and extra fluids to prevent dehydration.

"The body usually rids itself of the virus in 24-48 hours, so that's about how long it takes for drugs to take effect," she says.

Dr. Edwards emphasizes: "The best prevention is hand washing - washing well and often."

Some Brunswick parents were upset that the high school was not closed as well. However, Superintendent Mayell says attendance was actually up on Monday, and there are no signs of an outbreak in the high school.

Dr. Edwards isn't surprised. She says by the time students reach high school age, their bodies have built up immunity to fight the virus.

But students at Willet Middle School are especially disappointed. They raised money for a school trip to Washington, D.C. and are being told that the trip will be postponed to a later date.

However, many parents support the decision.

"It's just a good idea to play it safe for our kids," said Smilor.



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