RICHARDSON, Texas -- The Dallas County Health Department says the gastrointestinal illness norovirus is likely what spurred more than 1,000 absences at Richardson High School since last Thursday.

According to a letter sent to parents and staff, 282 students were absent or sent home on Thursday after incurring symptoms of an acute gastrointestinal illness. On Friday, that number ballooned to 602. On Monday, it shrunk to 239. A total 214 were absent on Tuesday. On a typical day, between 95 and 105 of the 2,550-person student body are absent or sent home because of an illness.

The Richardson Independent School District notified the county health department, which launched an investigation. On Tuesday, preliminary lab results point to norovirus being the culprit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus is highly contagious and can be passed on by an infected person, contaminated food or water or by coming into contact with a contaminated surface. It causes stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms typically vanish in one to three days.

Crews worked on Tuesday to clean door handles, water fountains and counter tops between each class period.

About three of my closest friends got sick; from every class, there are two students that are gone every day, said senior Osmin Antonio.

School officials sent out the memo to parents and staff Tuesday morning and are urging students to be proactive in washing their hands with soap and using hand sanitizer throughout the day.

You just have to educate your kids, said parent Amanda Ceja, whose son was sick last week. Stay clean, sanitize, don t go around shaking everybody s hand during this time. Also, educate your friends. If you see anybody in the restroom, wash your hands. Don t be afraid to tell them, hey, wash your hands.

Norovirus has been in the news lately for causing a pair of cruise ships to return to port after a chunk of the passengers became ill with it. Last week, News 8 media partner USA Today reported more than 20 percent of the 3,071 passengers onboard Royal Caribbean s Explorer of the Seas became ill with the virus. The cruise ship docked at its homeport of Bayonne, N.J. two days ahead of schedule.

Then, on Thursday, Princess Cruise s Caribbean Princess docked in Houston more than a day ahead of schedule because 160 of its 3,104 passengers came down with the bug.

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