On Wednesday, Feb. 8, St. Michaels Catholic School students and their parents received a slightly worrying email: Classes were going to be canceled until the following Tuesday, due to a massive norovirus outbreak.
Numerous kids and staff at the Detroit-area school had contracted the illness, and the health department encouraged administrators to shut things down immediately. But how does one catch the norovirus? And is it dangerous?
"The health department expressed that we acted correctly in closing school as quickly as possible," co-principal Kathy Nold wrote in a message to parents and students, per Audacy, after deciding to cancel classes.
"We had students who vomited... Tuesday, well before lunchtime, and then a rolling incidence of students throwing up gradually the rest of the day. We are also having siblings starting the onset of symptoms in a rolling fashion."
"Further, to say that the events... were disruptive and upsetting (to the students affected) is an understatement," she continued. "To have what occurred in our first grade yesterday (10 students vomiting in classrooms within a 4 hour window) would be unmanageable at a schoolwide level. In speaking to the Wayne County Health Department... I have made the very tough decision to close school and all programming in our building until Tuesday, Feb. 14."
What is the norovirus?
The norovirus is an incredibly common illness with about 2,500 reported outbreaks in the U.S. per year. It's also highly contagious, spreading very easily and quickly. According to the CDC, it generally triggers symptoms such as: vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. Less common symptoms include: fever, body aches, and and headaches. After being exposed, people generally start to experience symptoms within 12 to 48 hours, and recovery time generally takes one to three days.
Although the norovirus is sometimes labeled as "the stomach flu" in non-medical settings, it has no relation to the actual influenza. And while outbreaks of the norovirus can take place at any time, they most commonly occur between the months of November and April.
Generally, there is no real danger when it comes to norovirus — unless the person with the illness becomes dangerously dehydrated from excessive diarrhea and vomiting. When experiencing these symptoms, it's important to keep consuming water.
So, how does one avoid contracting the norovirus? Unfortunately, if you're exposed, there's a good chance you're going to come down with it.
How do you catch the norovirus?
Catching the norovirus is unfortunately very easy, especially if you've made contact with someone who has it.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you can contract the illness by eating food or drinking water that's been contaminated with it, touching a surface an infected person has touched, or even just coming into close contact with someone who has it.
Unfortunately, noroviruses are able to survive in extremely hot and cold temperatures. They can also endure most disinfectants — which is why St. Michael's decided to close its doors for almost a full week; getting through it isn't as easy as wiping down desks and chairs.
That said, it isn't anything to truly agonize over, but it's something to be aware of, if you hear about an outbreak in your area.