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Stomach virus plagues Kanawha students

A stomach bug is making the rounds in Kanawha County schools, keeping students out of class and prompting involvement by the health department.

Viruses are always a problem in schools, especially elementary schools, and Kanawha County has seen a lot of sick students since December.

Brenda Isaac, who oversees all of the county's school nurses, said the level of absences has recently been high enough in some area schools to warrant extra precautions.

At Ruthlawn Elementary, one of the hardest hit schools, 39 students were absent Monday, though there's no way to know how many of those were out because of illness.

Last week, Isaac contacted the Kanawha Charleston Health Department to ensure that school officials were treating the situation appropriately.

"Once we hit, you know, 30 to 40 percent of the students absent, then we certainly want to step up and take action," Isaac said.

 Schools and other group settings are required to report to the department when they see an outbreak or a "cluster" of an illness like this one, according to Janet Briscoe, director of epidemiology at the health department. The health department opens an investigation into each case.

The department has investigated 11 outbreaks so far this year, but not all of them have been in schools.

Briscoe is fairly certain that the elementary students are coming down with a common gastrointestinal virus like the norovirus or rotavirus, though she can't confirm that without doing a lab test.

For now, the health department is working with school officials to encourage habits to ward off the virus.

"Though they (the schools) usually put these things into place before we even get to them," she said.

That means encouraging hand washing, especially after bathroom visits, and roping off water fountains where kids are likely to spread germs.

"Especially the elementary kids, it's hard for them to keep their mouths off the different parts of the fountain like you're supposed to," Isaac said. "We cover those up and go with paper cups."

Parents are also being encouraged to keep their kids away from school if they're not feeling well, and to make sure they are completely well before they send them back to school. Generally, Isaac said, students should be symptom free for at least 24 hours before they return to school.

"I appreciate that parents want the child to come back to school and we do, too," Isaac said.

"But their resistance is down and we don't want them getting sick again, so they need to stay home."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.



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