Norovirus is to blame for cheerleader illnesses

February 14, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Tests done at the state Public Health Laboratories revealed norovirus caused hundreds of students to become ill during and after a Feb. 4 cheerleading competition held at Comcast Arena in Everett.

At least eight Skyline High School cheerleaders were among those sickened, according to Sara Niegowski, executive director of communications for the Issaquah School District. Skyline Principal Lisa Hechtman also became ill after attending the event, as did one assistant coach.

As of Feb. 10, the students and staff were all doing better, according to Niegowski, who said the Skyline squad was slated to take part in a follow-up competition the weekend of Feb. 11-12.

Norovirus is typically transmitted person-to-person, according to a press release from the state Department of Health.

The number of people reporting they suffered vomiting and diarrhea during or after the competition totaled 229 as of Feb. 9, according to state health officials. At least 33 people sought medical treatment for symptoms; there were no reported hospitalizations. The number of cases reported is expected to grow as the state continues to receive answers from surveys that were sent out to competition participants and their families.

The state Department of Health is leading an investigation, working with local health departments and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which sponsored the Everett event. More than 3,000 people were in attendance, with more than 1,000 competing, according to the WIAA.

Skyline cheerleaders brought home a championship in the competition. Local participants began to experience symptoms the evening of Feb. 5, Niegowski said.

Norovirus is a common cause of gastroenteritis, according to the Public Health – Seattle & King County website. The site describes norovirus as often responsible for outbreaks in schools, childcare centers, long-term care facilities and cruise ships. More than 50 percent of all food-borne illnesses are caused by norovirus. Those infected with the virus often may be contagious for up to three days after symptoms disappear. The illness is sometimes incorrectly called “stomach flu” or the “24-hour flu.”

Norovirus symptoms usually last between 24 and 72 hours. Norovirus rarely causes severe complications, dehydration being the most common problem.

Intestinal illnesses can be caused by several viruses and bacteria that may come from a wide variety of sources, according to state health officials. Intestinal symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and may include headaches, stomach cramps and fever. As with many illnesses, good personal hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, is important in preventing the spread of the virus.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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