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Norovirus outbreak sickens students at Renville Co. West

RENVILLE -- A norovirus outbreak has sickened students in the Renville County West school district.

More than 60 students were absent from school on Thursday with symptoms, most of them in the elementary school, according to information from the district office.

The school reported 66 students were absent on Friday; 48 of the absentees are in grades K- 4.

The virus causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, but most people recover in 24 to 48 hours, according to Jill Bruns, Renville County public health director.

She said an investigation by her office and the Minnesota Department of Health has ruled out food as the cause of the outbreak in the school.

Students in the elementary school's physical education program appear to have been the first stricken by the virus, possibly by sharing a baseball bat that had been handled by an infected person.

The virus is rampant in Minnesota right now, and is readily spread, said Bruns. Someone could easily have picked up the disease from a doorknob, shopping cart or other object, became infected and inadvertently spread it at the school.

Bruns commended the school for being quick to report the illness and taking action that can help stop its spread.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said the district will be using disinfectants and bleach to clean virtually every "touchable'' surface in the school building over the weekend.

"We're taking this seriously,'' he said.

The superintendent said the district is urging anyone with symptoms to remain at home and recover.

The virus is long-lasting in the environment. Washing surfaces with hot water and detergent is usually not enough to sterilize it. Bruns recommends using a solution of bleach to disinfect surfaces that could be contaminated.

She advises anyone who may have symptoms of the virus to remain home and not spread the illness. People should always wash their hands with soap and warm water.

The main concern with the disease is that it can cause dehydration, with young children, seniors and people with other health issues most at risk.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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