Astrovirus apparently sickens kids in Iowa: What it is and how it spreads

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JOHNSTON, Iowa (WHO) – An Iowa family says their child is recovering from an astrovirus infection that began days after visiting a public play area.

“We went to the splash pad on the 2nd of June and he started to develop symptoms that Monday and started to get a high fever and vomiting, then we noticed he was getting worse,” said Des Moines resident Megan Reynolds, whose son Fletcher was taken to the emergency room over the weekend and diagnosed with the astrovirus.

Reynolds said the nurses at the hospital said other children had come in with symptoms that indicated the illness.

Astrovirus, like norovirus, is a fecal virus. This type of virus, which was discovered by electron microscopes in the 1970s, is spread from person to person and by contact with stool. It can be spread on surfaces and through food or water.

It can be killed with chlorine if detected and properly treated. Public splash pads can be particularly susceptible to the spread of the virus due to children’s habits of sitting or squatting over spray features.

Reynolds realized a connection Tuesday morning when her friend was experiencing the same symptoms as her son.

“I realized talking to one of my girlfriends, she had the same symptoms and she didn’t know what was wrong with her. And then we realized she was at the splash pad one day before us, so we connected the dots and called the city of Johnston,” said Reynolds, whose son is now recovering at home.

The city shut down the splash pad in the Johnston Town Center for several hours Tuesday afternoon.

“So we’re pretty confident that the water itself is not the issue,” said John Schmitz, Johnston’s Parks and Recreation director. “So with that, knowing the virus that her child had is an astrovirus, it’s something that sticks to surfaces. So we’re going to make sure that the entire aquatic center area here with the splash pad is disinfected, including the concrete floor and the restrooms adjacent to it.”

Schmitz said the splash pad uses single-use water, which comes directly from the city and not a specific filtration system that would cycle the water back and forth. He said if the water supply had been affected, the city would have already known about the virus.

Though the city is not positive the virus was contracted at the splash pad, the facility was cleaned and disinfected out of an abundance of caution. It reopened just after 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The city of Johnston’s water was also being tested, to see if the virus had spread.

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