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Nearly half of Virginia high school out sick because of mystery outbreak of flu-like gastrointestinal symptoms

An investigation into the cause of the illness is underway.
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Nearly half of the student population of a Virginia high school was out of school Friday with flu-like or gastrointestinal symptoms, with an investigation into the source of the mystery outbreak underway, officials said.

Approximately 1,000 students were absent Friday from Stafford High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with many reporting flu-like and gastrointestinal symptoms, Sandra Osborn, chief communications officer for Stafford County Public Schools, said. 

That's nearly half of the school's population of 2,100 students.

Stafford High School is open Monday and "we are reassessing conditions this morning," Osborn said.

A deep cleaning and disinfecting of the school was performed over the weekend, according to the district.

Osborn said other schools in the district are not seeing similar numbers of absences due to illness.

Stafford High School canceled all school-related activities and athletics over the weekend, “due to the high number of student and staff illnesses reported this week,” according to its Facebook page.

In an update Monday, the district said 670 students were absent from the school and all after school sports and activities will be canceled through Tuesday at the high school. 

The district said officials investigated water fountains and meal services at the school and “do not believe there is a connection between either of those services and these illnesses.”

The school will “continue to clean vigorously each day until attendance returns to normal,” according to the update.

The investigation — conducted by the district, the Virginia Department of Health and the Rappahannock Area Health Department — has so far identified a number of students who tested positive for influenza.

"We are also seeing a pattern of gastrointestinal symptoms, which may be due to the flu or may be a separate illness," the update said.

The VDH recommends keeping schools open and continuing mitigation measures.

The Rappahannock Area Health District said in a statement Monday, "the source of the illness has not yet been determined, and until we get more information we cannot make a conclusion."