Stomach bug hits Stevens Brook School

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Like a flash flood, the same stomach bug that plagued Harrison Elementary School in early December swept through Stevens Brook Elementary School just before Christmas break, affecting over 80 students, teachers and staff.

And like the Harrison sickness, the highly contagious norovirus triggered an intervention by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as more than 10% of the school’s population was affected. But the two-week vacation was a huge help in breaking the cycle, and school officials are hopeful that the worst will be behind them once students return to classes next Monday.

Supt. Kathleen Beecher was at a construction meeting in Portland Wednesday and unavailable for comment, but school officials confirmed that the CDC was contacted because of the numbers of students involved.

State Epidemiologist Stephen Sears, while not able to offer specifics about the Stevens Brook Elementary School outbreak, said the Maine CDC braces itself each year for the respiratory virus to arrive in schools, nursing homes, cruise ships and other enclosed environments. Last year, there were between 20 and 30 cases but, “We’re just starting to see it this year.”

The symptoms of acute gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria, are so classic that testing is not necessary to identify it, Sears said. After touching the bacteria and somehow transmitting it to the mouth, the body reacts very quickly with intense bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

“It’s awful. When you’re sick with it you feel awful,” said Sears. The only silver lining is that the virus is short-lived; sickness usually abates within 72 hours of onset, he said.

There’s no treatment, and there’s no vaccine; the best remedy is drinking lots of water, although the intense nausea makes it very hard to do so. “It’s not fun, however, and we don’t take it lightly at all.”

School officials did their best to stem the spread of the virus by instituting a strict regimen of hand washing for everyone, repeated cleaning of all surfaces likely to be touched and sanitizing a six-foot radius around any sites where accidental vomiting may have occurred. They also urged anyone who felt sick to stay home from school.

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