St. Ignatius still closed after stomach flu outbreak

February 1, 2012 6:55:48 PM PST
A San Francisco high school will stay closed for the rest of the week because of a virus that has made hundreds of people sick.

It started Tuesday with about 50 students at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Catholic high school in the city's Outer Sunset District. The principal said Wednesday that there were 335 students, 30 percent of the student body, sick with the stomach flu. 30 teachers are also ill.

Health guidelines suggest they should stay home until 72 hours after the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Nick Ebert stayed home from school Wednesday. "Pretty sick. I mean it's been rough. My stomach's been hurting the whole time," he said. The 16-year-old is keeping in touch on Facebook with a lot of his friends and fellow classmates who are also home sick.

The stomach flu is more formally known as "viral gastroenteritis." Dr. Tomas Aragon says the vomiting and diarrhea are common. "It only takes a few particles to get infected and when it gets into the environment, it lasts in the environment a long period of time, and it could be there for days," he explained.

Cleaning crews have been working to sanitize surfaces the students touch with an EPA-approved bleach. "Tables and chairs, and door knobs, and doors, and walls, and desks, our floors... All those areas will be thoroughly cleaned," Principal Patrick Ruff said. According to Ruff, the school's kitchen and water supply have been ruled out as a source of the illness.

Health officials say the stomach flu is spread when people do not wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. Once one person has it, it is very infectious. Parents, including Ebert's dad Jim, were notified by the school Wednesday night. "I Lysol'd as much of the house as I could last night and this morning, so I'm hoping it goes OK," he said.

The San Francisco Public Health Department is praising the school's quick response to the outbreak. Cultures from some of the students are now being tested to find out if this is actually norovirus, the most common form of gastroenteritis. Doctors say it is the same thing New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning had in the days leading up to the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.