PUBLIC health officials have been alerted to an outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus at New Milton Junior School.

Sixty pupils missed school on Friday after contracting the common virus, which is often referred to as the winter vomiting bug.

Around 350 pupils aged between seven and 11 attend the New Forest junior school.

A statement released on Friday by headteacher Kelvin Geary read: “I can confirm that a number of pupils are absent from school today, with parents reporting to us that the children are unwell.

“I have followed the standard processes and sought advice from Public Health England.

“We are following their advice and asking parents to keep their children at home until they have been clear of any symptoms for 48 hours.

“At this stage the reasons for illness are unknown and to speculate on the cause would be inappropriate.”

This morning the school said most of the pupils who were absent on Friday have returned to class today.

A Public Health England spokeswoman confirmed they had been made aware of the situation.

“We have been contacted and asked for our advice, and understand there are quite a few children unwell at the school,” she said.

She added that the agency had identified the illness as an outbreak of norovirus based on a description of its symptoms and its effect on the children, although there are other viruses with similar symptoms.

“We are coming into the season for norovirus now,” she said.

“Our advice based on the national guidance for things like this is to exclude pupils from school until 48 hours after the last symptoms are seen.

“We have also advised a deep clean at the school.”

She said the agency had advised the local environmental health department of the situation.

Norovirus is found in the excrement and vomit of those infected. Typically, it is then spread via contaminated food, water and surfaces. The NHS advises parents to keep their children away from school for 48 hours after the last of the symptoms have cleared.

There is no cure for norovirus but it usually clears in one or two days.