OREM — More than 600 students in Utah County stayed home from school Thursday after officials warned of a possible outbreak of a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness.
On Wednesday, health officials warned that children in several schools in the Alpine School District may have norovirus and sent letters home to parents.
The Utah County Health Department on Thursday confirmed that a student in Orem tested positive for norovirus, adding to the list of cities in the county where officials are concerned about an outbreak.
"Just getting back to school, it's always a little bit hard because you get kids in more of a confined space together," said Aislynn Hill, public information officer for the Utah County Health Department.
Officials from the school district said several students got sick at school Thursday and threw up.
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.
And norovirus is "highly contagious," officials said.
However, because health care providers aren't required to report the virus, it is difficult for officials to maintain an accurate count of how many cases have been seen in the county, according Hill.
"It's entirely possible that there have been others that we're just not aware of," she said.
Hill said students in Orem will also be sent home with letters for their parents informing them about the virus.
"Even if they're nauseated, one of the recommendations, for instance, is to perhaps keep them home because that certainly can turn into … vomiting later in the day," she 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.1 comment on this story
When parents inform school officials their child will be absent for the day, the school district is asking parents to volunteer whether their child is experiencing symptoms of the gastrointestinal illness or will be absent for other reasons.
Symptoms of the illness also include nausea, headache, low fever and stomach cramps, officials said. 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.
Contributing: Ladd Egan