Over the last week hundreds of middle school children in Oak Park have stayed at home due to the spread of a virus that has caused intense vomiting and diahrrea.
Ventura County health officials have identified the virus as the highly contagious norovirus which the Center of Disease Control says is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis and the cause of "about 21 million illnesses and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths" in the U.S.
The illnesses at Medea Creek Middle School began last week when a high number of students called in sick from symptoms related to the virus.
Medea Creek Middle School principal Brad Benioff told KPCC that only 80 students stayed at home because of the sickness Tuesday, which was down from 100 illnesses on Monday and 130 on Friday. Benioff said that there have been four staff illnesses over the last few days, including a few who work in the cafeteria, which could have been the ground zero of the outbreak.
"It was possibly spread from there," Benioff said of the cafeteria, adding that he didn't think it started from food prepared in the school. "It was likely to be caused by some students that became ill [last] Tuesday or Wednesday on campus. They may have spread it in and around campus. It may have been spread around cafeteria. There's a lot of kids going through there touching containers and utensils. There's a good possibility it was spread through there."
Benioff noted that although this wave of illness is bad, it hasn't been as bad as when there was the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in the area in 2009.
"That one lasted longer," he recalled. "This one seems to be fairly rapid, 24-hour, vomiting. They get over it faster."
Benioff who oversees 1,000 students at the middle school, said he didn't hear any unusual illnesses at the nearby high school.