Gastrointestinal illnesses (vomiting and diarrhea )


What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Onset of the symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses varies from a few hours to several days or even weeks after exposure, depending on the type of pathogen.
  • Symptoms vary but generally include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, or stomach cramps
  • For detailed information about common communicable diseases refer to the Canadian Pediatric Society

How How are gastrointestinal illnesses spread?

  • Gastrointestinal illness can be spread from person to person. Illness can spread when an ill person does not wash their hands after using the toilet. Exposed individuals can become infected if they do not wash their hands before eating or touch their face area.
  • Viral enteric illnesses or "stomach flu" such as Norovirus are often responsible for outbreaks of vomiting and/or diarrhea in schools. The viruses are transmitted easily from person to person or by exposure to food, water, or surfaces contaminated by an infected person.

Instructions for Schools

Report unusual increases in absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness (diarrhea/vomiting) immediately to Peel Public Health at 905-799-7700.

When should a school exclude ill students and staff?

Children and staff with a diagnosed communicable disease may not need to be excluded from school provided they feel well enough to participate in school activities and are capable of practicing good hand washing. People with symptoms of Norovirus should stay away from school until they are symptom-free. Norovirus outbreaks require enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures in the school. See the section below on controlling an outbreak for more information.

Refer to the Canadian Pediatric Society for further details on suggested exclusions and readmissions for various communicable diseases.

Remember to protect the confidentiality of the student by not disclosing a diagnosis to concerned parents and/or colleagues. If follow up is required Peel Public Health will contact those who are at risk.

What should a school do if a food services staff member is ill?

Food handlers with vomiting or diarrhea can transmit their illness to others through contact with food and utensils. People who prepare food for others should not handle food or touch clean dishes/utensils until they are symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

Region of Peel Public Health will exclude food handlers who are infected with certain reportable diseases. Region of Peel Public Health will notify the employer of the exclusion and advise the employer when the person is eligible for return to work.

What can the school do to control an outbreak of diarrhea/ vomiting?

  • Promote frequent hand washing and hand hygiene practices with students and staff.
  • Reduce the risk of transmission of infections during periods of increased absenteeism by encouraging infection prevention practices such as:
    • isolation of staff and students who are ill at school until they are able to go home
    • encouraging students and staff with symptoms to stay home until they are feeling better
    • discouraging students from sharing food or drinks such as water bottles for sports teams
    • not allowing ill students and staff to participate in group activities where the infection may spread to others.
  • Increased cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces with effective sanitizers is recommended. A solution of water and household bleach is an effective disinfectant against many common viruses and bacteria. Disinfecting solutions using household bleach (PDF)
  • School officials may choose to communicate with students and caregivers about illness in the school through the use of key messages about hand washing and staying home when ill. Region of Peel Public Health offers a parent sample letter for your use.
  • If applicable, special needs feeding, personal care and diapering procedures should be reviewed with the applicable staff.

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