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Kerala: Two primary school students infected with Norovirus

Two lower primary school students in Thiruvananthapuram were found infected with norovirus, which has vomiting, diarrhoea and fever as symptoms. Norovirus is highly contagious, and can be transmitted through contaminated food, water, and surfaces.

Health department officials said more samples have been sent for examination. Prima facie, it is believed that students got food poisoning from mid-day meals distributed at the schools.

Education Minister V Sivankutty has convened a meeting of officials to discuss what steps should be taken to make mid-day meals safe. In November last year, over a dozen students of a veterinary college in Wayanad had been infected with the virus.

Norovirus, which infects people across age groups, is a bug similar to the diarrhoea-inducing rotavirus. Disease outbreaks typically occur aboard cruise ships, in nursing homes, dormitories, and other closed spaces.

The initial symptoms of Norovirus are vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which show up one or two days after exposure to the virus. Patients also feel nauseous, and suffer from abdominal pain, fever, headaches and body aches. In extreme cases, loss of fluids could lead to dehydration.

Norovirus is highly contagious and the primary route is oral-faecal. One may get infected multiple times as the virus has different strains. Norovirus is resistant to many disinfectants and can survive in temperature up to 60°C, so, merely steaming food or chlorinating water does not kill the virus. The virus can also survive many common hand sanitisers.

The disease is self-limiting. The infection, though it takes a lot out of the patient, normally lasts only two or three days, and most individuals who are not very young, very old, or malnourished can ride it out with sufficient rest and hydration.

The basic precaution is also the most obvious — repeatedly washing hands with soap after using the lavatory or changing diapers. It is important to wash hands carefully before eating or preparing food. During outbreaks, surfaces must be disinfected with a solution of hypochlorite at 5,000 parts per million. Diagnosis is done by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. No vaccines are available for the disease. It is important to maintain hydration in the acute phase. In extreme cases, patients have to be administered rehydration fluids intravenously.

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