State Health Department Issues Precautions Schools Should Take to Prevent Spread of Gastrointestinal Illness

State Health Department Issues Update on Seneca Lake State Park Gastrointestinal Outbreak

ALBANY, NY, September 1, 2005 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., today issued a letter to school districts stressing the precautionary measures people should take to help stop any further spread of gastrointestinal illness. The letter was issued to all schools (K-12) located within the thirty-five counties where cases of gastrointestinal illness, primarily diagnosed as cryptosporidium, have been linked to the spray park attraction at Seneca Lake State Park. The State's investigation is ongoing.

The number of reported illnesses possibly linked to the park is now 3,869 cases in thirty-five counties. The most common symptoms reported are diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and loss of appetite. There have been 612 confirmed cases of cryptosporidium reported to the State Health Department to date. Those who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should contact their medical provider and their local health department immediately.

"New onset of illness directly connected to the Seneca Lake spray park attraction is no longer occurring and many people who reported illness have fully recovered, said Dr. Novello. "Our priority is to prevent any further spread of gastrointestinal illness from person to person. With school starting next week, we want to stress that students, parents and teachers should practice good hygiene and that those who are ill should refrain from attending school or day care so they can recover more quickly and avoid getting others sick."

Dr. Novello is specifically recommending that the following precautions be taken by school officials, teachers, parents and students to help prevent further spread of illness from this outbreak in the school setting. These precautions also apply to the general public.

School Recommendations:

  • The school nurse should reinforce the need for students and staff to report any gastrointestinal illness to the nursing office at the first sign of such.
  • Students and staff who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should stay home from school until symptoms resolve.
  • Students and staff should thoroughly wash hands after using the restrooms and before handling food for themselves or others.
  • Elementary grade students may need verbal reminders or staff supervision when washing hands.
  • Schools should ensure that there are adequate supplies of liquid soap and paper towels for hand washing. Since waterless hand cleansers are not as effective in removing the cryptosporidium parasite from hands, soap and water are the preferred method for hand washing.
  • Schools should ensure restroom cleanliness is maintained.

In addition to the school precautions issued today, the public should also take the following precautions heading into the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend:

General Public:

  • To help prevent the spread of illness, individuals who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should not swim while they are sick. In addition, individuals with cryptosporidiosis should not swim for two weeks after symptoms subside.
  • People should take action to minimize the chances of acquiring and spreading gastrointestinal illnesses, including thoroughly washing hands after using the toilet, changing diapers or coming in contact with fecal material in any way. Also, swimmers should avoid swallowing water wherever they are swimming, but especially in lakes, ponds or rivers.
  • Health care staff and food workers who are experiencing gastrointestinal illness should notify their employer. They should not have patient contact or work in food service until they have recovered and been cleared for return by their employer or the local health department.
  • Children who have stomach/intestinal illness and are cared for in child day care centers should not attend day care. Day care centers should consult with their local health department for recommendations on the timing for a child's return to the day care setting. Children should not be transferred to another day care center.

Patrons at Spray Park Attractions, Swimming Pools and Bathing Beaches:

  • Patrons should always practice good hygiene. It is important to shower before swimming or using spray park features and always wash hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on one's body may get into the water.
  • Patrons should never drink the water when swimming or using spray park features and should avoid getting water in their mouths to prevent potential illness. It is important to note that water at most spray parks is recycled and should not be consumed.
  • Patrons must never use spray park features, swimming pools or beaches when they have diarrhea. This is especially important for infants and toddlers in diapers. This may spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Patrons with children should take them for bathroom breaks and/or check their diapers often. Children's diapers should be changed in a bathroom and not near spray park features, swimming pools or beach areas to prevent the spread of germs and illness.