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Communicable Disease Epidemiology Logo Communicable Diseases in Schools

Schools inherently foster the transmission of infections from person to person because they are a group setting in which people are in close contact and share supplies and equipment.

"Stay healthy, Montana kids!
This season, no outbreaks of a respiratory illness have been reported in our schools and only very few outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis have been reported. Remember the main steps to prevent illness outbreaks from occurring at your schools. Many illnesses can be prevented by following those steps outlined below.

All school districts are encouraged to maintain their vigilance for increasing absenteeism due to respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.  Any increases in absenteeism rates or suspected outbreaks should be reported to your local health department immediately. Your local health department can help you during outbreaks, provide valuable education and assist with controlling communicable diseases in schools. Let's keep germs away this season and maintain a healthy and happy classroom."

Most communicable diseases can be prevented by following the steps listed below: 

  • Hand washing: Wash hands with soap and warm water frequently, especially after using the restroom. Give children enough time to properly wash their hands.
    • Proper hand washing is the single most important behavior in preventing the transmission of many infectious diseases.
  • Exclusion: Exclude ill children and staff from school when ill. Avoid close contact with others during the infectious period. Consult with ARM or local public health for guidance.
  • Education: Be informed about signs, symptoms and prevention of diseases. Share information with students and parents. Learning how diseases are transmitted can help to actively prevent the spread of disease.
  • Disinfect surfaces: Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects. Focus especially on frequently touched surfaces at home, work and school.
  • Vaccinate: Be sure to check immunization status of children for those diseases that can be prevented with vaccines.
  • Seek care: Visit your health care provider when ill to get diagnosed and treated properly.

Infectious Diseases in Schools

Digital Field Trip

  • BAM! Body and Mind - Take your students to CDC’s fact and fun filled site and learn all about diseases in schools.
Influenza Virus
Pertussis Virus
Shiegellosis Virus



DPHHS recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine protects against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. The vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these three viruses or it can make your illness milder if you get a different flu virus.

Airborn virusIf you do get the flu, antiviral drugs are an important treatment option. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. This could be especially important for people at high risk. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within 2 days of symptoms).

For more information regarding Influenza please visit:

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Noroviruses are the most common of the viruses that cause gastroenteritis. The usual symptoms of gastroenteritis include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. There is no specific treatment for this illness and most individuals recover in 1 to 3 days. The illness can last longer and be more severe in young children, older persons, or persons who have other health conditions.

The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly. A person can become ill by Drinking Water ingesting the virus from contaminated food or water or by close contact with someone who is ill. Touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus, and then transferring the virus hand to mouth is another common way of becoming infected.

The best way to protect yourself from norovirus is to follow the prevention tips above, as no vaccine can prevent this illness at this time. Drinking plenty of water is very important with all diarrheal illnesses due to the fluid loss that occurs while ill.

For more information regarding norovirus please visit

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Pertussis, more commonly known as "Whooping Cough," is caused by the bacterium Bordatella pertussis. It is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air by cough. Pertussis begins with cold symptoms and a cough that becomes much worse over 1-2 weeks. Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs ("coughing fits") followed by a whooping noise. 

However, older children, adults and very young infants may not develop the whoop. There is generally no fever. People with pertussis may have a series of coughs followed by vomiting, turning blue, or difficulty catching breath.  The cough is often worse at night and cough medicines usually do not help.

ImmunizationsIf a student comes down with cold symptoms that include a severe cough, talk to your child’s parents without delay and possibly excluding the child from school until a healthcare provider rules out the possibility of pertussis. Giving antibiotics early can help the student get well faster and lower the chances of spreading the disease to others. Pertussis is vaccine preventable and is often administered as part of the Tdap vaccine.

For more information regarding Pertussis please visit:

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Shigellosis is a bacterial infection affecting the intestinal tract caused by group of bacteria called Shigella. Children, especially toddlers aged 2 to 4, are the most likely to get shigellosis, thus putting their school-aged siblings at risk.

Shigella sonnei is generally found in humans and most likely transmitted via fecal-oral route with an incubation period of 1-3 days. Contaminated food and water can also be a source of infection. Asymptomatic carriers are common with this disease.Upset Stomach

The disease is usually self-limiting, lasting about 4-7 days. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Most people with shigellosis will recover on their own. However, especially children could be at risk for seizures and other complications. Some may require fluids to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics are occasionally used to treat severe cases or to shorten the carrier phase which may be important for food handlers, children in day care or institutionalized individuals.

For more information regarding Shigellosis please visit

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