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Virus shuts down PA schools

The Norwalk virus has infected at least 159 people in Coraopolis, Penn.

BY HEATHER MOYER | CORAOPOLIS, Penn. | March 23, 2004

"We’re telling people to wash any possibly contaminated clothes or linens, wash their hands, and so on."

—Dave Zazac

The Norwalk virus – an intestinal illness – has infected at least 159 people, most of them school children, in Coraopolis, Penn., according to Allegheny County health officials. Schools are closed for the rest of the week.

The outbreak was traced to an elementary school in the Cornell School District, where it began last Friday and quickly spread to the other schools. "We've sent biological examples to the state lab for tests, but we're pretty sure it's the Norwalk Virus," said Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Dave Zazac. "Right now we're focusing on the prevention of any further infections, so we support the school district's decision to close down for the week."

The Cornell School District made the call Friday to close down schools for the rest of the week. The school district’s website posted the following announcement Friday morning:

“To ensure the safety and well-being of our student body and staff, the Cornell School District will have an early dismissal between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, March 23, 2004…. Also, be advised the Cornell School District will be closed for the remainder of this week. We anticipate reopening Monday, March 29, 2004.”

Zazac said the key to preventing infection is keeping everything as clean as possible. “The basic message is to keep the kitchen and bathrooms clean,” he said. “We’re telling people to wash any possibly contaminated clothes or linens, wash their hands, and so on. The good news is that the sickness is over fairly quick, but the bad news is that people can still infect others for up to three days after they recover.”

He added that dorm-like and close-knit atmospheres are a prime space for outbreaks such as this one. Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University saw an outbreak of the Norwalk Virus last year, but Zazac said the number of people infected was not as high as this current outbreak.

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