Health officials in York Region are investigating a possible outbreak of the norovirus after dozens of students from Thornhill Woods Public School fell ill during the past week.
The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) said letters were sent out to parents on Monday warning of a virus circulating in the elementary school north of Toronto.
“Any increase from what we normally see in absentee rates is what triggers a call to public health for an investigation,” YRDSB spokesperson Christina Choo-Hum told reporters Wednesday morning.
“We don’t have numbers now on our absentee rates but we continue to report them to York Region public health.”
A parent who has two children attending the school told Global News on Wednesday that he estimates between 150 to 180 children got sick.
“My daughter’s class, I think 80 per cent of the kids weren’t there,” Lee Lipes said. “She had it for about 24 to 48 hours and she was back in action. My son never got it. He’s still going every day to school.”
York Region public health officials say it is standard practice for schools to contact local authorities once they suspect an illness is spreading in their community.
“We receive a list of students who have called in ill or that have called in to make sure we do in fact have illness,” Marjolyn Pritchard, York Region’s director for infectious diseases control, said.
“We recommend to the school and parents at home to do regular disinfecting of surfaces so that if there’s any virus or whatever the organism that might be, that they are cleaning and disinfecting and removing it.”
Pritchard said she can’t officially confirm the presence of the norovirus until a stool sample is taken.
“Normally when we have these outbreaks we try to obtain stool specimens to ensure that we’ve got an understanding of the organism. We haven’t been able to acquire any specimens yet for laboratory testing,” she said.
Local health officials said similar stomach viruses are being reported across York Region and the public is being told to follow proper sanitation practices.
“This is the time of year when we do see an increase in enteric illness in the community and in various institutional type of environments. So yes, we’ve had some other enteric illnesses,” Pritchard said.
Norovirus is contagious and can spread from contact with infected people, contaminated food or water, or touching contaminated surfaces.
School officials are telling students to regularly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
Anyone exhibiting signs of nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea is urged to stay home for a minimum of 48 hours.
The school board said disinfection measures are also being taken at the school.