Today is Global Handwashing Day, an international event that promotes good handwashing practices as a simple, low-cost method of preventing the spread of viruses such as norovirus and influenza. The event started with schoolchildren back in 2008 to get them into the habit of washing their hands thoroughly with soap and water, particularly before eating and after using the toilet. It has since blossomed into an immense campaign for people of all ages, with over 200 million people in over 100 countries participating each year.
If you can’t find the event going on in your area, you can certainly show your support by spreading the word and giving your hands a good scrubbing before you eat and after visiting the bathroom (which you always do anyway, of course). The CDC was one of the founding members of the event who agree that clean hands can save lives, and you can find some very nice information about proper handwashing technique on the CDC’s website.
Norovirus has been associated with schools in the cooler months for decades, such that it got its other familiar name, Norwalk virus, from an elementary school in Norwalk, Ohio, after an outbreak in 1968 that affected half of the students and staff. It is getting to be that time of year again, and there have already been reports of a couple of schools with students coming down with norovirus-like symptoms.
East Marion Elementary in Florida has been in the news for over a week after about 40% of their children were home sick on October 4th and last week the Florida Health Department in Marion County confirmed norovirus as the causative agent. Yesterday the school’s principal was hopeful the issue was subsiding, as fewer children were home sick (114, which was the lowest number since when the event started with 149 children absent on Oct. 3rd and peaked with 280 children out on Oct. 4th).
Last Friday the Eagleswood Elementary School in New Jersey closed for disinfection after 40% of its students were out sick on Thursday with symptoms consistent with norovirus. In both cases, the schools are implementing special sanitation measures to help prevent the spread of disease.