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Colorado Health Officials Watching Viral Outbreak On Western Slope

(CBS4) - With large viral outbreaks happening across Colorado, state health officials are monitoring the situation for what is considered a common occurrence. Mesa County Valley District 51 canceled class at all schools for the rest of the week.

"We've had between 150 and 250 outbreaks of norovirus each year, and they usually appear in group settings," said Nicole Comstock the Communicable Disease Deputy Director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Last week Mesa County officials closed Palisade High School as the virus quickly spread among students and teachers.

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(credit: CBS)

On Wednesday, Nursing Coordinator Tanya Marvin said in a press release, "We are taking this highly unusual action because this virus is extremely contagious and spreading quickly across our schools. In addition, it appears that there is now a second, related virus that is affecting students, some of whom have already been ill in recent weeks. The combination of the two has created an unprecedented spread of illness."

With a planned week off for Thanksgiving, district officials are hoping time away will stop the spread of the virus.

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"If you have public vomiting incidents it doesn't take long for that virus to contaminate environmental services. People somehow get it into their mouth, and then 12-48 hours later they're sick and potentially spreading it to others," Comstock said. "People can protect themselves from norovirus by practicing good hand washing if you're sick with norovirus, don't prepare food for others. Stay home from work. Stay home from school, so you're not spreading it to other people."

What is spreading around the Grand Valley isn't exactly known.

Mesa County Public Health says, "Determining an exact diagnosis for these types of illnesses requires laboratory tests, which can be invasive, costly and not all that helpful in remedying a patient's outcome. Additionally, not all illnesses are reportable to public health. Norovirus is so common that labs and doctors' offices aren't required to report these illnesses to the local public health agency. This illness specifically seems to be hitting quickly, and patients are also recovering quickly, so many have not gone to a medical provider to be seen or tested."

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Air Force Academy campus (credit: CBS)

The Air Force Academy rescheduled events after 400 cadets reported illnesses.

They said in a statement, "To combat norovirus, increased cleaning is being conducted in common areas with agents that are certified to eliminate the virus. Areas that were cleaned once or twice daily are now being cleaned at least three times daily. Cadets have been encouraged to practice good hygiene, including vigorous hand washing with soap and water for 20-30 seconds. Infected cadets have been placed on bedrest for at least 72 hours after their symptoms resolve and they are cleared for duty by qualified medical personnel."

LINK: CDPHE Norovirus Information

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