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Norovirus outbreak at North Canton Elementary winding down

haywoodAn outbreak of the highly contagious intestinal bug known as norovirus has been raging through North Canton Elementary School over the past two weeks, but illness now seems to be on the downswing — to the relief of parents and teachers alike.

North Canton school officials have worked closely with Haywood County health officials since suspicious absences due to a stomach bug first appeared almost two weeks ago, forcing the school to postpone a dance scheduled for Sept. 11. Parents were notified about the outbreak, and the school put itself on a regimented cleaning regime. 

By Monday (Sept. 21), health officials had confirmed that norovirus was the culprit. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., causing about 20 million illnesses each year. 

“It sounds like they have done everything they can do,” said Neil Suttles, father of a first-grader at North Canton. “Unfortunately young kids have bad habits.”

North Canton Principal Belinda Trantham believes the outbreak is finally under control after keeping as much as 15 percent of the student body — up to 35 students each day — home sick over the past week. 

“We only had 17 absent today, half of what we had yesterday, and only two new reported cases,” Trantham said. 

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Lindsay Andrews, mother of a first-grader, said her daughter was part of the first wave when the virus hit. She was called to pick up her daughter from school early and learned 11 other students in her daughter’s class — more than half — were out sick. 

“I think they have done pretty good keeping the parents informed,” Andrews said, citing routine letters and robocalls to parents.

Parents with children at other schools in the county should stay alert for stomach virus symptoms and take precautions when going out in public, according to Patrick Johnson, nursing director at Haywood County Health and Human Services. Johnson said it’s possible — but not inevitable — the virus will jump to other schools.

“I think all the school personnel are on alert for this,” Johnson said. “It is clearly highly contagious, but with diligent effort it can be knocked out.”

“We are pleased with the school’s work and support from public health officials,” agreed Bill Nolte, associate superintendent.  “The number of people with G.I. symptoms is trending in a good direction. We are monitoring attendance at our other schools and the overall absentee rate still looks pretty normal.”

That said, it pays to be diligent. Careful hand washing and cleaning can make all the difference, with a simple bleach solution proving effective for blasting the germs. 

— Staff writer Holly Kays contributed to this article

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