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Saturday, 23 August 2014

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Investigation into sickness outbreak at north Cumbrian school

An investigation is underway into the cause of a sickness outbreak which kept 90 pupils away from a north Cumbrian school.

Tim Glendinning photo
Tim Glendinning

Public Health England and environmental health officials from Eden council are trying to establish the cause of the outbreak at Beaconside School in Penrith.

The school said many of those affected are now back after parents were advised to keep them off for 48 hours to prevent the outbreak spreading.

Health officials said the outbreak was not believed to be linked to food preparation at the school.

They add that the Hutton Hill school is co-operating fully. Enhanced cleaning regimes are underway to further prevent any spread of the illness.

Tracey Wood, senior health protection practitioner at the Cumbria and Lancashire PHE Centre, said: “It has not been possible to pinpoint exactly what led to the illness but we are undertaking further investigations that may provide us with more information.

“In general, good hygiene is a key principle in avoiding infection. This includes thorough hand washing, especially after using the toilet, before and after handling or preparing food and before eating.

“After an episode of illness, patients should not prepare food for others or attend work or school until two days after symptoms have cleared.”

Headteacher Tim Glendinning explained that the outbreak peaked last week.

“Last Wednesday we noticed a large number of children were either not coming into school or having to be sent home. Attendance the next day was down by 19 per cent.

“All the signs are that it was an outbreak of norovirus – better known as the winter vomiting bug but it can occur at any time of year. It becomes airborne easily and can therefore spread quickly,” he said.

“That said it seems to be disappearing just as quickly. Yesterday we were back to 96/97 per cent attendance so the 48 hours off school seems to have done the trick. We are certainly hoping so.”

Mr Glendinning said they contacted Public Health England for advice when they realised the extent of the outbreak and were put in touch with local environmental health officers.

He added: “We were given some advice about some extra things we can do, for example, the door handles are now cleaned twice a day instead of one as apparently they are one of the main points for passing on germs.”

Public Health England has also issued the following advice for families:

  • Wash hands thoroughly, particularly after visiting the toilet and before eating
  • Do not share towels. Where possible, use paper hand towels and dispose of them immediately
  • Drink plenty of fluids and rest to prevent dehydration
  • Disinfect any areas that may be contaminated
  • Don’t visit hospitals, care homes, schools/nurseries or elderly/vulnerable people until fully recovered.

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