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Norovirus blamed in Cornell illnesses

| Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The illness that forced the Cornell School District to close for two weeks last month was caused by norovirus, the Allegheny County Health Department said Monday.

The virus had been the prime suspect for causing almost 200 students, staff and other people connected to the district to develop flu-like symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.

Two rounds of tests by the county health department were inconclusive but further testing by the state health department, using a test kit supplied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed that norovirus struck the school, county

Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said.

"This is what we expected all along. It was just a matter of having a test kit sensitive enough," Cole said. Norovirus was detected in five of 11 stool samples taken from people who got sick.

District Superintendent D.J. Johnson said he felt vindicated by the test results. Johnson closed the Coraopolis school, which serves about 800 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, to allow the building and school buses to be cleaned and decontaminated.

Johnson hopes the test results will make it easier to get state and federal funding to cover the costs, estimated at $150,000.

"What we did was the correct thing to do," Johnson said.

Cole said Johnson dealt effectively with the highly contagious, fast-spreading virus. The Health Department said people are contagious for about two days after recovery, so good handwashing habits are important to prevent its spread.

No new cases have been reported since the school re-opened earlier this month.

Cole noted it was unusual to see a large outbreak, but it has happened on cruise ships or in hotels -- places where people live in close quarters for extended periods of time.

Locally, the virus was blamed for sickening 35 people at Carnegie Mellon University in January and for an outbreak in 2002 at a football camp in Penn Hills, where 82 students got sick.

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