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Norovirus, not food poisoning, delayed Pembroke play

A second test this week confirmed that the Pembroke Academy drama club was waylaid by norovirus – not food poisoning – as they prepared for their annual production last week.

More than half the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream took ill at the dress rehearsal last Wednesday. At first, the students and staff blamed takeout from the Concord Olive Garden that the cast ate that night.

But Jose Montero, director of the New Hampshire Division of Public Health, said yesterday tests of a second stool sample from a student infected in the outbreak confirmed it was norovirus, not food poisoning.

The infection came from within the school community, and while his investigators believe they identified the original infected person, Montero did not want to name him or her.

Norovirus usually causes 24 to 72 hours of intense vomiting and diarrhea and can be transmitted if someone who has the virus does not properly wash their hands after being sick or using the bathroom.

“It was not the food. We will continue to work with them on getting education and information out, but it is school vacation this week so it has been hard,” Montero said.

Sixteen students were sickened in the incident, five so severely they were hospitalized for a time. All have recovered and have started rehearsing again, director Peter Mehegan said.

The production was rescheduled for 7 p.m. April 30, May 2 and May 3 at the Pembroke Academy Auditorium.

The Olive Garden’s spokesman, Mike Bernstein, said in an emailed statement that if they get hungry during these last rehearsals, the students should give the restaurant a call.

“While we’re very glad to know our food was not the cause of these illnesses, whatever the cause it’s unfortunate that it happened and we feel especially badly for the drama club students who had to postpone their play,” he said. “In fact, to show our concern and support we’ve reached out to the club and offered to deliver another meal sometime on us.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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