Gastrointestinal illness hits Hermantown schoolsLarge numbers of students in each of Hermantown’s three schools are out sick with a gastrointestinal illness this week.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Large numbers of students in each of Hermantown’s three schools are out sick with a gastrointestinal illness this week.
According to the district’s nurse, Kristy Gunderson, the illness is not influenza, as some have suspected.
“There is a lot of confusion with people calling it the flu,” she said, noting it might be norovirus, the common bug often spread on cruise ships or college campuses.
Students’ symptoms are abdominal cramping, stomach pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, and in some cases fever or headache. Gunderson noticed a rise in absenteeism beginning last week.
The reporting of such a gastrointestinal issue is not required by the Minnesota Department of Health, but Ann Busche, director of St. Louis County Health and Human Services, has heard anecdotally that the virus is making the rounds.
If a sick person picks up a muffin and perhaps touches another muffin, then whoever gets that muffin gets sick, too, she said, describing its ability to spread.
“Because it’s a virus it has to run its course,” she said. “Take comfort-care measures versus curative-care measures. Rest and hydrate. Hand-washing is critical.”
Because of the number of students out sick, Gunderson said, school officials are working to stop further spread of the
illness. The self-serve food has been pulled from that area in cafeterias and is being served by food service staff instead. School employees are encouraging proper coughing and sneezing etiquette — sneezing into a tissue or one’s elbow instead of into one’s hands or open air — along with frequent hand washing. They also are discouraging the sharing of snacks and drinks, and ask parents to do the same at home.
It’s also important to immediately wash clothes that might be contaminated and use disinfectant with ingredients that include bleach or sodium chloride, said Cindi Welch, infection prevention manager for Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center.
Most important, Gunderson said, is for parents to keep kids at home if they have gastrointestinal symptoms. They should return to school after 24 hours of being symptom-free without a fever-reducing medication.
While she understands the difficulty for parents in staying home from work, she said, sending sick kids to school only infects more students.
Gunderson asked parents to provide specifics of a child’s illness when calling in so that it can be tracked.
Carlie Anderson, a nurse with the Proctor school district, said there were some reports of students out with gastrointestinal illness this week, but schools experienced higher rates before the holidays. Duluth school district principals and nurses didn’t report an unusual rate of absences Wednesday for such an issue, said district spokeswoman Katie Kaufman.