SARATOGA SPRINGS — Health officials are warning parents of students at all public schools in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain of a possible outbreak of a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness in the community
An illness that might be norovirus, which is "spread by infected people or contaminated food and water," has been reported at several schools in the Alpine School District, officials said.
According to the Utah County Health Department, the virus commonly causes diarrhea and vomiting and can affect anyone. The health department said it has recently received dozens of reports of illness that could be norovirus.
Kimberly Bird, assistant to the superintendent for Alpine School District, said the district will take extra precautions to help prevent further spread of the illness.
"We've got really great chemicals that we use in the cleaning of our schools on a regular basis, but we will notify all of our custodians about this particular virus that's highly contagious," Bird said.
Health officials are asking parents of children who show symptoms of the illness to keep them out of school for 72 hours until "after vomiting and diarrhea have ended."
If a child's sibling experiences similar symptoms, officials ask that parents keep them home from school as well.
Symptoms of the illness also include nausea, headache, low fever and stomach cramps, officials said.
According to the health department, symptoms usually appear within one to two days of exposure, but can show up earlier.
"Persons with norovirus usually recover within two to three days without serious or long-term health effects. Even though the virus is easy to spread, serious illness rarely occurs," officials said.
Norovirus can be contracted by "touching the same surface that the ill person has come in contact with, and even by breathing in the fumes from vomit," officials said.
Those with the virus should not prepare food for others, officials added, but should wear gloves if they must do so.
There are no vaccines or specific treatments for the illness. Ways to prevent the infection include cleaning surfaces "immediately after an episode of the illness" with a bleach-based cleaner and washing clothes or linens contaminated with stool or vomit, health officials said.
Cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, are also increasing in Utah County, according to a news release from Utah County Health Department. And with school back in session, the department expects more cases of the cough.
"The number of cases at this point in the year is almost double that of the same timeframe in 2017," the release states.
This year, according to the health department, the county has so far seen 65 cases of the cough as compared to 49 in all of 2017.
Pertussis causes cold symptoms including runny nose and "an irritating cough," the department said, and can be life-threatening for small children.
For adults, it can last for weeks, officials said.
"Regardless of the cough intensity, pertussis can be spread to others, including unimmunized infants, who are at such high risk, especially those who have not yet been immunized," said Dr. David Flinders, medical director for the Utah County Health Department.
"Since this can be life-threatening in small children, it is very important for those experiencing symptoms to go to their healthcare provider to be diagnosed and receive treatment," he said.
Officials say that vaccination is the "best prevention" against the virus. Teenagers and adults can take a booster vaccine, officials said, as childhood vaccination or having the illness as a child will not prevent a teenager or adult from getting it again.
Contributing: Ladd Egan