By Robbie Owens

RICHARDSON (CBSDFW.COM ) – At Richardson High School, what appears to be a gastrointestinal bug of some sort is spreading faster than an internet rumor… with dozens of students and staff complaining of stomach ache, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

“A lot of my friends have been going down with it,” says freshman Phillip Wittel. And today, Wittel joined them, calling his Dad to pick him up from the campus north of Dallas shortly after noon.

“My stomach felt kind of ‘crampy’,” says Wittel, “and at that point, I was curious if I actually caught it. When I was in the clinic, it was packed to the rim with people.”

On a campus of roughly 2500 students, absences are to be expected. But, according to Richardson school officials, by late Thursday, they began to notice a troubling pattern in the symptoms.

An automated message went out to warn parents, while also asking them to keep sick students at home. By day’s end, some 70 students and 4 Richardson High staffers had gone home after complaining of the same symptoms.

The City of Richardson Health Department began the day with a thorough review of the cafeteria and food preparation systems as they searched for a cause. So far, they’ve come up empty.

“At least at this point, there appear to be no signs that it’s a food related issue,” says city spokesperson Greg Sowell. “Of course, it’s still early in the investigation. The Dallas County Health Dept. is conducting its own interviews and continuing from there.”

Zachary Thompson, Director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, confirmed that the department is aware of the situation and is beginning what could be a lengthy search for a cause.

“That’s the challenge that we have before us,” says Thompson, “is to look at where the source is, and when you have that many students, that many people impacted, our staff [has] to go through and contact each and every person.”

Meanwhile, school staffers disinfected the campus overnight and a second deep cleaning is slated for this weekend.

“They are disinfecting with special attention paid to high traffic and high touch areas like door knobs, water fountains, areas in the cafeteria, things like that,” says Richardson ISD spokesperson Tim Clark. “We’re certainly treating it seriously; but, we’re pretty comfortable that it’s nothing related to something someone ate or drank, it’s not seasonal influenza, so the precautions are going to be similar.”

Again, parents are being asked to keep sick students at home for at least 24 hours after they stop exhibiting symptoms, and encourage frequent hand washing.

All should be ready for well students to return to class on Monday.

“I decided I was going to play it safe and make sure I didn’t get anybody else sick,” says Phillip Wittel, as he headed home on Friday.

Well, nobody at school, at least.

“We’ll probably get it, too,” laughed his father, Frederick, with a parent’s knowing sigh.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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