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Norovirus cited as cause of illness at FHS

It appears last week's outbreak of illness at Farmington High School could have been prevented by something as simple as thorough hand washing.

Washing hands is the first line of defense against norovirus.

On Friday, Farmington School District officials learned the cause of the 60-plus sick calls at Farmington High School on Oct. 10. According to the Minnesota Department of Health's findings, norovirus is to blame.

Norovirus is sometimes confused with stomach flu because the symptoms are similar - vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping - but it does not include the respiratory illness associated with the flu. The virus is found in the stool or vomit of people who are infected and is "transferred to food, water, or surfaces by the hands of infected people who have not washed adequately after using the bathroom," according to the Department of Health's norovirus fact sheet.

People can be infected by eating food or drinking liquids that were handled by someone with the disease, or by touching contaminated surfaces - like bathroom doors or stairwell railings - and then touching their mouth while eating or drinking.

According to ISD 192 communications director James Skelly, the Department of Health could not find any evidence the district's food service, Chartwell's, played any role in the illness. State health officials talked to a majority of the students who got sick, and based on those interviews ruled out food poisoning as a cause for the sickness, which had been a concern for parents.

The investigation revealed that the illness probably started to incubate around FHS as early as the beginning of the month. Typically, it takes one to two days for symptoms to appear after people are initially infected. It just so happens the virus was already present at Farmington High School at a time when there were a lot of Homecoming activities that put students in close proximity.

"The timing was very unfortunate," Skelly said. "Once it gets rolling, it's hard to stop. We found that out the hard way."

According to the health department's fact sheet, the easiest way to prevent norovirus infections is to wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds after using the bathroom or preparing foods or before eating. Health department officials also urge washing hands more often when around others who are already sick.

Farmington officials received the report late Friday afternoon. A copy of the norovirus fact sheet can be found at:

On Monday, following the parent-teacher conferences at Farmington High School, principal Ben Kusch held a parent meeting to answer any questions and review the findings of the report.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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