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Norovirus sickens students at Eagle Creek

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

As of Monday, May 18, absences were back to normal.

While school district officials can’t say exactly how many of the absent students were sick, they do know the absences were up on Thursday, 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 Snohomish Health District after about 25 students were sent home from school with stomach flu symptoms on May 13.

Health officials said the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea are consistent with a Norovirus, a rapidly spreading illness, and not H1N1.

“They emphasized that this gastrointestinal infection is not the ‘swine flu,’” Gilman said.

Snohomish Health District’s public information officer, Suzanne Pate said this illness could be easily contained by following normal precautions.

“Keep sick kids home for an extra day after they seem healthy, and feed them lots of water, and wash hands often,” Pate recommended.

“Kids were running to the nurse’s office all day Wednesday,” Gilman said.

Norovirus infections spread quickly during the vomiting and diarrhea phase of the illness, Pate said, adding the germs were flying through the air, literally.

But, she said, it’s 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 district did all the right things,” Pate 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” Web site communication program.

The Norovirus outbreak was 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.

On Monday, absences were down to 35, which is average.

Gilman suggests that parents should watch the district Web site at www.asd.wednet.edu for up to date information on the norovirus, or call the Snohomish County Health Department at 425-339-5278.

The Health District and the Center for Disease Control did not recommend closing the school.

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