Stomach virus sends kids home

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A stomach virus is being blamed for many of Lewiston Elementary School's student body being absent or leaving school early Friday.

Principal Mike Doolittle said 330 children and 10 to 12 staff members were absent or left school Friday because of a highly contagious form of stomach flu. The school has about 800 pupils.

Dr. Doolittle said Columbia County health officials suspect the infection was a Norovirus similar to an outbreak that would occur on a cruise ship.

He said officials ruled out food contamination as a cause of the virus.

The virus struck children in every grade, and some parents kept their children home as a precaution, Dr. Doolittle said.

"Because we had so many kids that were out, we were able to combine some classes," he said. "We had some classes as small as six kids."

Sandra Carraway, the Columbia County school system deputy superintendent, said about 140 children were absent or went home early from the elementary school Thursday.

Lewiston is the only county school that has been affected by the virus, she said.

She said the problems began Thursday morning when a Lewiston pupil got off a school bus and immediately vomited.

The symptoms of the stomach flu include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

"It is an extremely contagious infection, and it's spread by touching things," Dr. Carraway said.

The illness often begins suddenly and usually lasts one to two days. It also is spread by coming in direct contact with an infected individual.

The school staff took extra measures to sanitize classrooms and multiuse areas, officials said.

"Our staff has done a tremendous job of taking care of all the sick," Dr. Doolittle said.

He said Bel Air Elementary School Principal Mark Boyd told him Friday that 15 children from that school were absent because of the stomach flu during the entire week.

Dr. Doolittle has been a Columbia County educator for 16 years, but said he has never seen an outbreak of this magnitude at a school. He said he hoped classes can resume on a normal basis Monday.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.

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