by: Liz Foster Updated:
UNION COUNTY, N.C. - Health officials said the Norovirus caused nearly 200 students and staff to become sick at a Union County elementary school.
"I was scared because I thought I had a virus or something," said third-grader Matthew Parola.
He’s one of about 170 students and staff members who suddenly got sick at Shiloh elementary school late last week.
"Everybody worried about it," said Claudia Rodriguez, who has a daughter who attends Shiloh.
There were 174 people, mostly students, who didn’t show up for classes Friday on an end-of-grade test day.
That test was pushed to Tuesday but 45 students were still absent.
Union County's Health Department is investigating what caused so many to get sick, so fast.
"At this point we're uncertain, obviously, it happened at the school,” said Richard Matens, the county's director of Human Services. “We had them do a super clean of the facility to make sure everything was gone. Our environmental health team supervised that."
Matens thinks the fast evolving illness is a virus and told Channel 9 people are still getting sick.
"[It’s the] largest event in a single school that I've seen," Matens said.
Staff with the county health department worked over the holiday weekend to determine the cause of the illness, but won't know for sure what it is until results come back from a state lab.
"What if it happens again? We need to know what's going on," Rodriguez said.
Matens said there is no indication the illness has spread to other schools.
Norovirus is a very contagious virus. An individual can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces.
The virus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed (acute gastroenteritis). This leads the individual to have stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
Hand-washing is key to prevent the spread of norovirus. The public is reminded to wash hands carefully with soap and water:
• Especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and
• Always before eating, preparing, or handling food.
Persons who become ill with symptoms of gastrointestinal illness are encouraged to contact their medical provider.