New York State Health Department Issues Precautions Schools Should Take to Prevent Spread of Gastrointestinal Illness

ALBANY, N.Y. -- State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, MD, MPH, DrPH, has issued a letter to school districts stressing the precautionary measures people should take to help stop any further spread of gastrointestinal illness. The letter was issued to all schools (K-12) located within the 35 counties where cases of gastrointestinal illness, primarily diagnosed as cryptosporidium, have been linked to the spray park attraction at Seneca Lake State Park. The state's investigation is ongoing.

The number of reported illnesses possibly linked to the park is now 3,869 cases in 35 counties. The most common symptoms reported are diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and loss of appetite. There have been 612 confirmed cases of cryptosporidium reported to the state health department to date. Those who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should contact their medical provider and their local health department immediately.

"New onset of illness directly connected to the Seneca Lake spray park attraction is no longer occurring and many people who reported illness have fully recovered, said Novello. "Our priority is to prevent any further spread of gastrointestinal illness from person to person. With school starting, we want to stress that students, parents and teachers should practice good hygiene and that those who are ill should refrain from attending school or day care so they can recover more quickly and avoid getting others sick."

Novello is specifically recommending that the following precautions be taken by school officials, teachers, parents and students to help prevent further spread of illness from this outbreak in the school setting. These precautions also apply to the general public.

School Recommendations:

-- The school nurse should reinforce the need for students and staff to report any gastrointestinal illness to the nursing office at the first sign of such.

-- Students and staff who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should stay home from school until symptoms resolve.

-- Students and staff should thoroughly wash hands after using the restrooms and before handling food for themselves or others.

-- Elementary grade students may need verbal reminders or staff supervision when washing hands.

-- Schools should ensure that there are adequate supplies of liquid soap and paper towels for handwashing. Since waterless hand cleansers are not as effective in removing the cryptosporidium parasite from hands, soap and water are the preferred method for hand washing.

-- Schools should ensure restroom cleanliness is maintained.

Source: New York State Department of Health

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