Health Officials Investigate Madison School Amid Norovirus Concerns

Students and staff at a Madison middle school are feeling a little better on Friday after a likely outbreak of the norovirus prompted many to fall ill in recent days. Local health officials said that they believe it’s the largest outbreak so far this year.

Anne Fischer, the principal of Jefferson Middle School, said she realized something was up earlier this week when comparing stories among staff about how many were ill over the weekend. Fischer herself said she got sick with the ailment.

What followed at the school was 10 to 12 percent of the student population, or more than 50 students, absent from school over two days complaining of gastro-intestinal symptoms. The absences prompted district officials to contact officials with Public Health — Madison & Dane County.

An epidemiologist said that they believe the illnesses are likely an outbreak of norovirus.

“We have stool tests pending, but the number of people out, the symptoms they’re describing, it certainly sounds like norovirus,” said Amana Kita-Yarbro, communicable disease epidemiologist with the local health department.

In addition to the student absences, at least 15 staff were also sick, and the school has taken measures to clean the building and encourage increased hand washing at the school.

Fischer said the cleaning efforts have been extensive.

“The custodians had some extra help in the evenings using some bleach solution washing down common hallways, railways, doorknobs, places where germs quickly carry, and they’ve been doing that every evening,” she said.

Classes weren’t held across the district for a staff development day on Friday, and Fischer said she’s hopeful the three-day weekend helps everyone to get healthy.

Parents with sick children have been asked to keep them home for 48 hours after symptoms subside.

Kita-Yarbro said that this is the fourth outbreak of norovirus since the beginning of the year, which is more than normal. She said individual cases of norovirus in the community don’t seem to have increased.