Soap could be key in stomach virus outbreak at Ebenezer Middle - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Soap could be key in stomach virus outbreak at Ebenezer Middle


Scores of students are sick and out of school in Effingham County after a viral outbreak. It looks like a simple stomach virus, but it's making lots of families miserable.

At Ebenezer Middle School, 51 students were out sick on Thursday in the eightgrade alone. Twenty more students were sent home on Thursday as well.

Why are so many students sick? The answer may be as simple as this: soap.

Students and parents repeatedly said that the school hasn't been stocking soap in the bathrooms, and the issue has been a headache for the district's head nurse.

"It is a behavior issue when you get, especially with the older children, they think it's quite fun and novel to see what they can do with the soap dispensers besides wash their hands with them," said Effingham District Nurse Marsha Cornell.

Parents said the school has been relying on hand sanitizer. The problem with that is, it doesn't kill the norovirus, the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness.

Recent outbreaks of the virus on cruise ships have highlighted the importance of hand washing, especially close quarters.

"That's the problem with viral illnesses," said Cornell. "They spread very quickly and very easily."

Ebenezer Middle School Principal Amy Dickerson disagrees with the parents and children. She said her school does and always has stocked soap.

When I went into the school to try to catch up with Dickerson, no one was at the door and no adults were to be found.

When looking in the bathroom, soap dispensers had been removed, but fresh containers of hand soap were sitting on the counter.

The virus has spead to other schools, sickening Effingham High student Alissa Folker. What's even more sickening is Folker said she sometimes sees spit in the soap dispensers.

"You can see like people have spit in the soap, and there's a layer of spit on top of it," she said.

Folker's mother, Jana Ashe, worries about the pressure for children to attend school now that Effingham is in the middle of standardized CRCT testing, which determines the schools' statewide scorecard.

"I know there's a big push to try to have as many kids there as possible," said Ashe. "But the downside is if they do go sick, not only are they going to spread the germs, but they're not going to do their best on the test."

Ashe said her younger son, an Ebenezer Middle student, is being kept out of a school-wide ball tournament because he got the stomach bug and missed class during testing.

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