A gastrointestinal illness sweeping schools in Mesa County so far appears to have largely spared Montrose institutions.

The school district here will be taking advantage of Thanksgiving break to work with Montrose County Public Health in conducting a deeper cleaning of its early childhood centers, however, because there has been a slight uptick in such illnesses and a few more absences than normal.

“It hasn’t been to the numbers where we would close or send home the kids,” Montrose County School District spokeswoman Laurie Laird said Friday. “The plan is definitely to do extra cleaning at those sites over the break.”

In Mesa County, School District 51 took the step of closing all of its schools over Thanksgiving break, due to viral gastrointestinal illness.

“We are taking this highly unusual action because this virus is extremely contagious and spreading quickly across our schools. In addition, it appears that there is now a second, related virus that is affecting students, some of whom have already been ill in recent weeks. The combination of the tow has created an unprecedented spread of illness,” District 51’s nursing coordinator Tanya Marvin said, in a statement published on the district’s website.

The primary symptoms appear to be vomiting and diarrhea, with some also reporting fever, according to Mesa County Public Health. Consistent with a virus, the students suffering have reported sudden onset of symptoms.

The health department said confirming the type of illness would require lab testing and is “not all that helpful in remedying a patient’s outcome.” Further, not all illnesses are reportable to public health agencies and illnesses like norovirus are so common that they are not usually reportable.

Possible cases in Montrose, similarly, are not confirmed as norovirus, Montrose County Media Relations Manager Katie Yergensen said. Montrose County is working with Mesa County to share information and spread awareness about the illness and prevention tips.

“It appears to be a gastrointestinal issue involving diarrhea and fever. It is self-reported instances at this point,” Yergensen said.

Because the Montrose County School District is not seeing the illness at school sites other than a few cases at early childhood development centers, it is not a pressing concern, Laird said.

“We’ve had an increase, not significant enough to cancel (school), but the break does come at a good time where we can get in and get additional cleaning done,” she said.

Public health agencies are pushing personal hygiene and proper food preparation.

The agencies strongly recommend routinely washing your hands, especially after using the restroom and contact with surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, light switches and hand rails, and also before handling food.

Soap and water is the most effective, although hand sanitizer is better than nothing.

Remember: Cleaning up vomit or feces from ill family members puts you at an increased risk for illness. Be sure to use a cleaner that is specifically labeled as effective against norovirus, or use one cup of bleach per one gallon of water. The virus can live on surfaces for a long time, so proper cleaning is important in halting outbreaks.

People who show signs of illness can also spare others the misery by staying out of public spaces until they have been asymptomatic for at least 24 hours.

“If you are feeling sick, stay home, as much as you are possibly able. You are going to help prevent the spread of any kind of germs,” Yergensen said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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