Tests Confirm Hellstern Students Sick from Norovirus

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The Arkansas Department of Health has determined that a third of Hellstern Middle School students in Springdale were sick from Norovirus.

Health department officials tested stool samples and inspected the school’s kitchen.

Sources for Norovirus, also known as “Norwalk Virus,” include “produce, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods touched by infected food workers (salads, sandwiches, ice, cookies, fruit), or any other foods contaminated with vomit or feces from an infected person,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's a virus that does attack your small intestine, your large intestine and your stomach,” said Rick Schaeffer with Springdale Public Schools. “It does lead to nausea, vomiting and can cause diarrhea. When it hits, it hits you quickly and that's why we had so many absences in one day."

The school was closed Jan. 18 after more than 300 students were sick and absent the day before.

State health department officials determined the school’s kitchen was up to standard and did not contribute to the students getting sick, according to Schaeffer.

The virus also affected teachers who couldn't make it to their professional development day on Monday while students were off for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Norovirus is highly contagious and the district took precautions, Schaeffer said.

“We have sterilized all of our school buses, not just the ones that run routes to Hellstern but all of our school buses,” he said. “So we are hoping that with a day off for Martin Luther King Day that when we come back to school tomorrow our attendance will be back up here at Hellstern."

Schaeffer said parents have been very supportive through this process, even helping them collect stool samples for testing.

The school district plans to resume classes Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 8 a.m.