Flu spreads like wild fire at Eagle Creek Elementary

ARLINGTON - Even the principal was home sick at Eagle Creek Elementary School Thursday, May 14, when 218 students were absent.

While school district officials can't say exactly how many of the absent students are sick, they do know the absences were up from 99 the day before.

"We are required by law to report to the health district if more than 10 percent of the school population is out sick," said Misti Gilman, the district's public information officer.

Eagle Creek has 529 students.

The school nurse, Christina Bassford, called the county health department after about 25 students were sent home from school with stomach flu symptoms Wednesday, May 13.

Health officials said the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea are consistent with a norovirus-like illness, i.e. a rapidly spreading flu-bug.

"They emphasized that this gastrointestinal infection is not H1N1 'swine flu,'" Gilman said.

"The symptoms are very different," she said.

The health department said the flu-bug is easily contained by following normal precautions. Keep sick kids home for an extra day after they seem healthy, and feed them lots of water.

"Kids were coming to the nurse's office all day Wednesday," Gilman said.

Norovirus infections spread quickly during the vomiting and diarrhea phase of the illness.

Nonetheless, health department officials said it is nothing to panic about. The most effective measures to contain its spread are to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and to disinfect surfaces, including toilets, floors and countertops that may have been contaminated with vomit or stool.

“As a special precaution to keep our children healthy, Dr. Kristine

McDuffy, Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, ordered extra cleaning

crews to sanitize doorknobs, desktops and other touchable surfaces,” Gilman said.

The norovirus was reported on the Wednesday night TV news after the district had published a warning to parents on it's "Connect Ed" website communication program.

So far the norovirus outbreak is isolated to Eagle Creek Elementary.

"We believe 60 of the 218 absences are home as a precautionary measure or due to

illness other than the norovirus," Gilman said.

Gilman suggests that parents should watch the district website at for up to date information on the norovirus, or call the

Snohomish County Health Department at 425-339-5278.

The county Health District and the Center for Disease Control are not recommending the school be closed.

More on norovirus

Sometimes referred to as the Norwalk virus, the norovirus is an RNA virus of the Caliciviridae taxonomic family. This virus causes approximately 90 percent of epidemic non-bacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world and may be responsible for 50 percent of all foodborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

According to the Web site of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis, in people.

The term norovirus was recently approved as the official name for this group of viruses.

Several other names have been used for noroviruses, including:

• Norwalk-like viruses (NLVs)

• caliciviruses (because they belong to the virus family Caliciviridae)

• small round structured viruses.

Viruses are very different from bacteria and parasites, some of which can cause illnesses similar to norovirus infection. Like all viral infections, noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics, and cannot grow outside of a person’s body.

Who gets norovirus infection?

Anyone can become infected with these viruses. There are many different strains of norovirus, which makes it difficult for a person’s body to develop long-lasting immunity. Therefore, norovirus illness can recur throughout a person’s lifetime. In addition, because of differences in genetic factors, some people are more likely to become infected and develop more severe illness than others.

Is there a treatment for norovirus infection?

There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection. And there is no drug to treat people who are infected with the virus. Antibiotic drugs will not help if you have norovirus infection. This is because they fight against bacteria not viruses.

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