By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Health investigators in Colorado are not ruling out norovirus as the cause of hundreds of cases of a mysterious gastrointestinal illness across the state.
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“Twenty-two thousand students in Colorado are out of school early this Thanksgiving break, as school officials try to stop this really fast-moving outbreak that has affected several communities there,” NPR’s Rachel Martin reported. Mesa County School District 51 is completely closed.
State and county officials have assumed that the mystery gastrointestinal illness was a norovirus because of the typically telltale signs of vomiting and diarrhea. On Monday, however, the first test for the disease came back negative.
Mesa County Health Official Isn’t Ruling Out Norovirus Yet
Despite the result, Jeff Kuhr, the executive director of Mesa County Public Health, told Colorado Public Radio (CPR) that he isn’t ruling out norovirus because there are more results pending.
“The thing I want to emphasize is that we’re not focusing on this one test because we’re actually trying to collect five total tests,” Kuhr said.
“From a clinical perspective, this resembles norovirus and so that’s the way we’re treating it,” he added. “In the best scenario, this would be tapering off and we may not get [the samples] but the tapering is good from our perspective.”
Mesa County has taken to social media to encourage people to help track the illness, CPR announced. The county has set up a hotline at 970-462-7074 for people to report public vomiting. They can also make a report online in English or Spanish.
Some Call Mystery Illness the ‘Palisade Plague’
Some Coloradans are calling the illness the “Palisade plague” after the small desert town in Mesa County, population 2,692, where it first appeared about two weeks ago. Since that initial outbreak, cases have been found in Moffat, Garfield, Montrose and El Paso counties, as well as the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. A few schools in the Denver metro area have also reported outbreaks.
Colorado gets between 150 and 250 norovirus or suspected norovirus outbreaks each year, and there are usually no long-term health effects, CPR added. Most people who get norovirus feel better within a day or two. The general recommendations for the public are to wash their hands regularly and to stay away from other people if they become sick.
Heavy Snows across State May Slow the Spread of Mystery Illness
Perhaps the heavy snowstorm that has already dumped five to 10 inches of snow in the Denver area will retard the spread of the illness as more people are forced to remain indoors.
“The highest snow totals have generally been north of Denver, with Boulder and Fort Collins picking up 14 inches of snow. Those areas could wind up with as much as 20 inches of snow from this historic storm,” the Denver Post said.
Weather forecasters are expecting a possible total of 18 inches before the storm ends sometime Tuesday afternoon.