A review of gastrointestinal outbreaks in schools: effective infection control interventions

J Sch Health. 2010 Dec;80(12):588-98. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2010.00546.x.


Background: The purpose of this study was to review documented outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness in schools, published in the last 10 years, to identify etiology, mode of transmission, the number of children affected, morbidity and mortality patterns, and interventions for control and prevention.

Methods: Searches of electronic databases, public health publications, and federal, state, and provincial public health Web sites were completed.

Results: Of the 121 outbreaks that met the inclusion criteria, 51% were bacterial, 40% viral, 7% were from Cryptosporidium, and 2% from multiple organisms. Transmission routes recorded in 101 reports included foodborne (45%), person-to-person (16%), waterborne (12%), and animal contact (11%). Actions to control outbreaks included alerting medical and public health authorities or the community to the outbreak (13%), treating cases (12%), enhancing hand washing (11%), and increased vigilance during food preparation (8%). Recommendations to prevent future outbreaks were compared with previously published studies that demonstrated effectiveness.

Conclusions: The risk of foodborne illness was reduced when food handlers practiced effective hand washing technique and received food safety training and certification. Student training programs on hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning and disinfection of the school, and hepatitis A vaccination were found effective. Children should be supervised on farm visits, hand washing strictly enforced, and food eaten in an area separated from the animals. Staff and students should have a positive, continuous communication with public health authorities including educational sessions and immediate reporting of possible outbreaks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control / methods*
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Food Contamination
  • Food Handling / standards
  • Food Microbiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / epidemiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / microbiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Gastroenteritis / epidemiology*
  • Gastroenteritis / microbiology
  • Gastroenteritis / prevention & control*
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Humans
  • Schools*