MARION COUNTY, Fla. - It's
the fourth day of an outbreak that's keeping hundreds of students home from school at East Marion Elementary in Marion County, and health officials still aren't sure what's causing the nasty stomach bug.
Channel 9's Bianca Castro found more than 200 students were out sick on Tuesday, which is about 30 percent of the school's population.
Officials said the stomach bug is spreading on contact, hitting students hard and fast, causing vomiting and diarrhea that can last for days.
"These are typical of what is known as an enteric infection, which could be viral, could be some sort of germ," said Craig Ackerman of the Health Department.
The virus is similar to the norovirus, which is commonly seen on cruise ships, officials said.
School officials are using decontamination foggers and wiping down every surface at night. On Tuesday, they even closed the school cafeteria.
School officials are strongly urging parents to keep their children home until they've been symptom-free for 24 hours.
"A lot of the parents, understandably, 'cause they're single parents, they have to work, they have nowhere for their children to go," said grandmother Kathy Fleming. "So even if they are running symptoms, they're sending them to school, and it keeps repeating itself over and over.
Parents are also encouraged to take sick children to the doctor for lab tests. Those labs are the only way the health department can figure out what the illness is.
Health officials said hand sanitizer doesn't always work against diseases like the norovirus. That's why they say it's important to wash hands with soap and water.