Group of Fort Collins students struck with mysterious illness at Vail conference

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A school bus was parked outside the Sebastian Hotel in Vail on the morning of April 29, 2014, waiting to ferry high school students away from the scene of a mystery illness that broke out at FBLA conference.

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VAIL, Colo. — A group of Fort Collins high school students visiting Vail for a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) conference were struck with a mysterious illness this week.

A hotel manager at the Sebastian Hotel in Vail, where a group of Fort Collins students was staying, and one mother who was serving as a judge at the conference first informed FOX31 Denver about the illness that seemed to sweep across the conference Monday night.

Another parent called FOX31 Denver saying an FBLA adviser had contact her, saying parents were being asked to pick up sick students from the Sebastian Hotel Tuesday morning, and that the healthy students were scheduled to be taken home via bus later in the day.

Around 2:30 p.m., Colorado Health Department spokesperson Mark Salley said his department was working with the Eagle County Health Department to investigate a possible Norovirus outbreak that sickened at least 10 students. Salley also said given the nature of the conference, he expected more students would eventually come down with symptoms, which included vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

A Sebastian Hotel spokesperson confirmed there were about 900 students staying at several Vail hotels for the FBLA conference, and that roughly 50 of them had reported being sick.

Parents described the illness as being so severe that several students could not even leave their hotel rooms to walk across the hall.

A Sebastian Hotel spokesperson said that after speaking with the Eagle County Health Department, there appeared to be no reason to suspect the illness was food-related. Unfortunately, the hotel spokesperson continued, students suffering from the illness were being kept in close quarters and travelling on buses, which enabled the illness to spread quickly and easily.

Though it was not clear which Fort Collins schools’ students were hit hardest by the mystery illness and if it had spread to students from other cities, one parent told FOX31 Denver that eight of the 10 students attending the conference from Fort Collins High School had fallen ill. That parent also said healthy students were being advised to stay home for the next 24-72 hours to prevent any potential spread of the illness.

Shortly after FOX31 Denver began receiving reports from parents about the illness, a letter was issue by Fort Collins High School principal Mark Eversole to parents.

“We have seen an increase in students with gastrointestinal, flu like symptoms over the past few weeks, especially in students who have been on field trips,” Eversole wrote. “Please monitor your student for signs of gastrointestinal illness, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. If your student has these symptoms, please let the school know. Very good hand washing will help prevent this illness.”

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