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Virus closes area school

by John G. Miller

MANAGING EDITOR

Wilsonburg Elementary School will be closed today following an outbreak of a stomach-related ailment identified as Norwalk virus, according to school personnel who emphasized the problem is contained to that school.

Harrison County School Superintendent Dr. Carl Friebel said Sunday he had been told it was Norwalk virus that caused more than 90 students, teachers and staff to become ill last week. More than 90 were absent on Thursday, while 49 missed school Friday.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Norwalk virus family is "transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated water and foods. Secondary person-to-person transmission has been documented."

Norwalk virus-caused illness is described as "self-limiting, mild and characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain."

Because the disease can be transmitted from person to person, school personnel wanted to take extra steps to limit the outbreak.

"This is strictly precautionary," said Victor Gabriel, administrative assistant for School Support Services. "We want to get some crews in there to really clean up the kitchen and restrooms."

Gabriel emphasized that the school system chose to close the school, and was not told to do so by county or state health officials.

"We do not have a county-wide problem," Gabriel said. "It is limited to that area."

Friebel said it is believed that the virus was passed from one of the kitchen staff members to the rest of those affected. It is not believed that the food was contaminated when received.

"Because it is limited to that school, we have to assume that it came from the kitchen," Friebel said. "That's why we wanted to take extra precautions in cleaning up that area, as well as other areas where children had gotten sick."

Friebel said county and state health officials have been working on the case since last week. Crews were on hand Friday conducting tests and taking stool samples to help identify the cause. Gabriel confirmed the water had been tested.

However, none of the food eaten by students on Tuesday or Wednesday could be tested because leftovers had been disposed of, according to Dr. Paul Gordon, medical director of the Harrison County Health Department.

He said state health officials believe Norwalk virus is the cause, but that some test results are not available yet.

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