About a third of the 150 Lawrence High School band members who were part of a recent trip to Orlando, Fla., fell ill with a gastrointestinal illness thought to have been the norovirus, Lawrence High School assistant principal Mark Preut said.
The students made the six-day trip to Orlando for Festival Disney, a performing arts competition at Disney World. Students started getting sick after their March 14 arrival at an Orlando hotel.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, norovirus is a highly contagious virus that people can get "from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces." The virus causes one's stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed, the CDC says, and this leads to stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea.
The virus has made headlines in the past few years when it affected hundreds of people on cruise ships.
“I think we first encountered it at the hotel,” Preut said. “I was in the elevator with members of a softball team from New York who said one of their team members was sick from food poisoning. Soon after that, a clerk at the hotel said the norovirus was making the rounds among the schools there. That’s where our students got exposed.”
LHS band director Mike Jones sent an email March 16 to parents informing them that band members were getting ill from a “quick acting” virus, Preut said, though the exact illness was not officially diagnosed.
The Journal-World's attempts to reach health officials in Florida Wednesday were not successful.
Those who got sick tended to be in misery with vomiting, diarrhea and nausea for about 12 hours and then were extremely tired for another 24 hours as they recovered, Preut said. One student was treated at an emergency room for dehydration associated with the illness, he said.
“I never heard any whining or complaining,” Preut noted. “Students stepped up for those who were sick, and we did quite well in the competitions.”
Preut credited Lawrence school board member GR Gordon-Ross, who made the trip as a parent, with taking charge of the sick students’ care.
Gordon-Ross said he relied on his background as a pharmacist to treat the students, making sure they stayed hydrated with water and an electrolyte replacement drink.
“We would start with a bottle cap of water to see if they could keep that down and go from there, working up to saltine crackers,” he said. “We set up a mini-infirmary in the hotel lobby. We kept a running list of the sick kids, checking to see when was the last time they drank something and when was the last time they were able to eat something.
The students returned from Florida on Sunday, and many of them were still sick on the long bus ride home.
Preut said he got sick after the group returned to Lawrence but he has since recovered.
Gordon-Ross said it was fortunate that LHS was on spring break this week as that would prevent students from spreading the virus.
According to the CDC, norovirus can be found in a person's feces even before a person starts feeling sick, and the virus can stay in the feces for two weeks or more after a person feels better.
A person is most contagious, according to the CDC, when actually feeling sick and during the first few days after feeling recovered.