Montessori school in Pittsburgh hit with noro outbreak: child throws up in cafeteria

Jack, our three-year-old goes to pre-school a couple of days a week. It gives him a place to interact with other kids, listen to other adults and get some time without Dani or I around. We haven’t encountered anything yet, but I’m anticipating that it will also be a place where he picks up a pathogen and brings it home with him.

Childcare and schools are often the site of outbreaks of norovirus, Shigella and rotavirus – the very nature of the set-up (lots of kids touching common toys, tables and learning tools with not a lot of handwashing) makes it inevitable that we’ll end up with some illness coming home.

According to the Post-Gazette, a Pittsburgh (PA) Montessori school was recently the site of a norovirus outbreak which left over 150 students at home with vomit, diarrhea and nausea.

In a school with typically high teacher and student attendance, seven teachers — nearly a fourth of the staff — had called off.
Nearly half of the 355 children were absent. A child threw up at breakfast in the cafeteria. And children coming to class said they were sick. One teacher had just five of 21 students in class.

The toll was 158 students absent at the start of the day, joined by another 20 who got sick during the day, Ms. Wallace said. An additional teacher also got sick.

"It was just unbelievable," [Principal Cynthia Wallace]said.

That led to a call to the county Health Department and the closing of the building Friday so the school could be thoroughly disinfected.

A vomit event in the cafeteria could, where aerosolized virus particles might end up making their way to food storage and handling areas could make the outbreak an even bigger event.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.