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DHH investigates after 70 students, 12 faculty sickened at Algiers school

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ALGIERS, LA (WVUE) - The state began investigating an outbreak of an unidentified illness that shut down a Catholic school in Algiers after 70 students and 12 faculty members called out sick, according to the Archdiocese.

Parents at St. Andrew the Apostle School received an email Monday evening saying the school would be closed Tuesday because of an excessive number of people out with the flu. However, State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard with the Department of Health and Hospitals said DHH sent a team of epidemiologists to find out if another sickness may be the cause.

Ratard says it would be extremely rare for a flu outbreak of this magnitude to happen this early in the flu season.

"It's a little bit early in the season, but we don't know - anything can happen," he said. "You know nothing is 100 percent when you look in biology. So, it's always interesting to be there and finding out what's going on."

Ratard said they're testing for other sicknesses such as the norovirus, which thrives in cold weather.

"We already have an epidemiologist going there trying to find out some of the people who are sick if we can find them and collect some nasal or phalangeal swab, and if we are successful collecting some sending them to the lab to find out what kind of respiratory virus it is," Ratard said on Tuesday.

"There's really a lot of questions still of how long after they were exposed to something did they get sick, and that would really help you a lot in trying to figure out what the cause of the infection was," said Dr. Aaron Thompson, director of the emergency department at Children's Hospital. "You want to look at had they eaten similar foods, things like that, was there someone who was sick first and then got everyone else sick. Those would all be factors in trying to figure out what the outbreak was caused by."

The Archdiocese of New Orleans sent this statement:

"Out of an abundance of caution the pastor and leadership of St. Andrew the Apostle School made the decision to close the school for today. The decision was based on the number of students and faculty who were out sick yesterday and would not be able to return to school today. Reports are that 70 students and 12 faculty were out sick. Throughout the day today, the St. Andrew maintenance staff cleaned and disinfected surfaces at the school including desks to proactively prevent any more germs from spreading. According to the pastor, Father John Talomo, the school is scheduled to reopen tomorrow."

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