School resumed Thursday morning at a northwest Indiana elementary school after at least 129 students were out sick Wednesday with a viral infection that local health officials suspected could be the highly contagious norovirus.
Roughly a quarter of the student body at Peifer Elementary School in Schererville, Indiana, reportedly had symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and fever Tuesday to Wednesday, which initially led school officials to suspect a foodborne illness, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana.
Lunch records later indicated that 39 percent of students who called in sick Wednesday didn’t eat or drink anything from the school the day before, Lake Central School Corporation Superintendent Larry Veracco told the Times.
Triple the number of normal custodial crews were called in to scrub the school Wednesday night.
“We are cleaning with a solution that was provided to us by the Department of Health,” a Peifer school official told WGN. “Anything that moves: doorknobs, desks, computer screens, lunchroom tables, the entire building.”
When contacted by The Huffington Post Thursday morning, the Lake County Department of Public Health did not confirm that norovirus was the infection that swept through Peifer, but said students’ symptoms were consistent with those of norovirus illness. The viral infection is not believed to be enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), the respiratory infection causing symptoms like fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, muscle and body aches.
Priti Patwari, an infectious disease specialist at Community Hospital in Munster, told HuffPost that the chief distinction between the two highly contagious viruses is that norovirus only affects the gastrointestinal system while the enterovirus affects both GI and respiratory systems. Since August, 664 cases of enterovirus D68 — many among children — have been confirmed in 45 states.
Further questions to the Lake County DPH about the sweeping infection at Peifer were deferred to an epidemiologist at the state health department who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Norovirus can easily spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, with infected people typically recovering from it within one to three days.
The Lake County Department of Public Health suspected the mystery infection was most likely spread through a child or staff member who returned to school before the illness was completely out of their system, Assistant Superintendent Al Gandolfi told NBC Chicago.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Priti Patwari and the location of Community Hospital.