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Clean hands can keep stomach bug away

TAMPA — Reports of a nasty stomach illness have spiked in Hillsborough County, and the best prevention is scrubbing with soap, the county Health Department says.

On Friday, the department warned of an increase in gastrointestinal illnesses — doctor-speak for vomiting and diarrhea. It usually lasts three to five days, department spokesman Steve Huard said.

"These germs and viruses, they live longer in the cold weather, and they're more readily passed from person to person," he said. "It's especially important for people who are sick to stay home."

That's exactly what the Hillsborough County School District wants. In a note sent home with students Wednesday, school officials pointed out the symptoms of gastroenteritis — fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting — and told sick students and staffers to stay home until the symptoms pass.

The note also advises people to wash their hands for at least 15 seconds.

The illness isn't concentrated in any particular region or schools, Huard and school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

But there has been a noticeable increase in absences across the district. About 2,000 more students were absent Tuesday than a typical Tuesday, Hegarty said.

"Just wash your hands," he advised. "Wash them to the tune of 'Happy Birthday.' That's 15 seconds."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

Clean hands can keep stomach bug away 02/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 11:40pm]
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