The Department of Health’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed yesterday that the cases of alleged food poisoning at schools in Greater Kaohsiung reported last week were the result of a cluster of norovirus infections.
Earlier this month, two clusters of norovirus infections broke out in two elementary schools in Greater Kaohsiung, causing some classes to be suspended. On Friday last week, more cases of alleged collective food poisoning, influenza or norovirus infections were reported in elementary schools in Greater Kaohsiung, resulting in dozens of students being sent to hospital.
The FDA said the health department has already sent teams to the schools to disinfect school kitchens and has instructed school personnel and students on how to maintain personal and environmental hygiene — the most important measure in preventing the spread of the norovirus.
According to the agency, the peak season for the norovirus is between November and March, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) statistics show that most of the recent cluster of diarrhea outbreaks were caused by norovirus infections.
On Tuesday last week, CDC released its latest report on diarrhea, showing the number of cases reported at emergency rooms in the past four weeks surpassed the number of cases during the same period last year by two to three times.
A total of 57 cases of cluster norovirus infections have occurred since September, of which 24 occurred at schools and preschools, 16 at care centers and other highly populated facilities and 15 at hospitals, the CDC said, adding that with the peak season of norovirus and other gastroenteritis illnesses approaching, the general public should pay more attention to personal hygiene while the food industry, hospitals, schools and other care facilities should strengthen sanitary control measures.
The highly contagious norovirus can be transmitted directly from person to person and indirectly via contaminated water and food, the FDA said, adding that the main symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps or stomach pain, and may also lead to fever, fatigue, headache and muscle aches.
The FDA suggested precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as frequently washing hands with soap, washing fruits and vegetable more thoroughly, avoiding eating raw food, keeping good household hygiene and feeding infants with breast milk to strengthen their immune system.