Northwood Recovers From Outbreak of Influenza and the Stomach Bug

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At the height of the outbreak students and staff used surgical masks to prevent the spread of the illness.

Northwood School and the surrounding community of Lake Placid were recently stricken with outbreaks of influenza and the virulent stomach illness. The school’s nurses, dorm parents, staff, and faculty members took every measure to provide comfort to all students and teachers who were sick.

The entire Northwood population was engaged in efforts to curb the spread of the diseases as well as to mitigate the severity of symptoms, which included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, body aches and chills. The kitchen crew restricted the use of utensils and prepared separate tables for sick students while the maintenance staff regularly disinfected all public spaces, door handles, and banister railings. Students whose roommates were ill were required to sleep in another room to reduce exposure to the epidemic.

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Tables in the dining room reserved for ill students were disinfected regularly.

Influenza and numerous other viruses spread rapidly during winter due to close physical networks and the lack of humidity. Viruses of airborne diseases can linger in the air longer in drier conditions than they can in more humid conditions. “In humid conditions, water droplets in the air, which tend to contain viruses, drop to the floor, preventing people from breathing in the viruses,” explained Chris Pierce, a mathematics teacher at Northwood School who previously worked as an epidemiology researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “This is why making sure that people are vaccinated is important during wintertime,” said Pierce. “Influenza vaccine shots create a system called herd immunity, where people who are vaccinated essentially become a force field against others who are not protected. We, as a community, have a moral obligation to protect vulnerable people who are unable to get vaccinated for different reasons.”

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Nurse P checked a student’s temperature in the living room.

Regarding the stomach bug outbreak, “The stomach flu was probably a school-wide norovirus infection,” he said. “Norovirus is highly contagious because it can survive on a surface for a long time,” Pierce continued. “It can survive on railings, silverware, or toilet seats for days or weeks. The dining room is probably the epicenter at Northwood because that is where most of the communal living here happens. The virus usually spreads quickly in enclosed places like nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.”

Meanwhile, as reported in a school-wide email from Tom Broderick, the Assistant Head of Northwood School, the local public high school had approximately one-fifth of the student body sick with the stomach bug last week, and the local emergency rooms and hospitals were inundated with similar cases.

Due to a high volume of sick students within the campus, all students were welcome to take a long Winter Weekend off campus with parental permission. Because there are no vaccines or drugs to prevent and treat the stomach illness, Northwood has used all-campus emails and school meeting announcements to remind the student body to practice good hand hygiene and be conscious of infection control measures when interacting with ill students.

The nursing staff was unavailable to provide detailed statistics for this story, as they were occupied with taking care of sick students. It is estimated that about 30 to 40 students were ill simultaneously at the height of the epidemic, and as many as 93 students and 27 staff succumbed to the outbreak from January 3 to 15.

Holli Edgley, one of Northwood’s two school nurses, expressed gratitude to all who helped during the outbreak. “A heartfelt thank you to all of the faculty, staff, and students who helped to assist the nursing staff in their efforts to care for all those affected by this recent wave of illness. Additionally, a special thank you to Joey Burnah and his staff for their hard work cleaning the school and to Colin Miller and his staff for their extra efforts in the kitchen this past week,” said Edgley.

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