Evanston health officials say tests indicate the illness that caused an outbreak of diarrhea and vomiting at Washington School a week ago was caused by Norovirus.

Norovirus is described as the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis. It’s usually self-limiting and severe illness as a result of the infection is rare.

Health officials say they don’t know the source of the outbreak but that the school has been thoroughly cleaned and there have been no reports of similar outbreaks recently at other Evanston schools.

Here’s a copy of an email sent to Washington School parents late this afternoon:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

As you know, on Friday, October 31, an unusually large number of students and staff at Washington Elementary School were sick with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. The Evanston Department of Health and Human Services collected samples from ill students that have tested positive for Norovirus. The school has been thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized per District and Health Department procedures. The Health Department continues to contact students, parents and staff members impacted by the illness to gather additional information.  If you or your family members are experiencing symptoms and haven’t reported your illness to the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services, please call 311 or (847) 488-4311. 

Norovirus is a common cause of acute gastroenteritis and is highly contagious. Norovirus outbreaks usually increase in the colder months of the year. The infection can cause vomiting and diarrhea approximately 24-48 hours after exposure to the agent. Usually, over 40 percent of ill persons in a Norovirus outbreak will experience vomiting. Symptoms typically resolve within a few days without treatment. 

Although Norovirus generally does not cause a severe illness, it can result in dehydration particularly in children and the elderly. Norovirus outbreaks result from person to person spread or from consumption of contaminated food, ice or drinks. At this time, we do not know the source of the Norovirus at Washington Elementary. There has been no report or evidence of a similar outbreak at any other District 65 school or facility.

The following are recommended to prevent and limit transmission: 

-Wash your hands frequently, especially after toileting and before eating or preparing food. Hands should be washed with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds. Good hygiene is the best way to prevent transmission of Norovirus. If soap and running water are not readily available then hand sanitizer solution should be used.
-Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of diarrhea or vomiting. At home it is recommended that you use a bleach-based household cleaner or one part bleach to nine parts water (1:10 dilution). At school we use an Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant.
-Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with feces or vomitus (use hot water and soap).
-Persons who are experiencing symptoms of gastrointestinal illness should stay home from school until 24 hours after symptoms have stopped.

District 65 continues to work alongside the Evanston Health and Human Services Department to examine and monitor facility maintenance/cleaning and food safety procedures in schools to ensure that best practices are being implemented. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services at 311 or (847) 448-4311 or the District 65 Health Services Department at (847) 859-8120.


Carl Caneva 
Assistant Director Evanston Health and Human Services Department

Mary H. Larson 
District 65 Coordinator of Health Services

Paul Goren
District 65 Superintendent of Schools

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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