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Dozens of high school volleyball players were stricken with a flulike illness during a tournament in Clarence last weekend, prompting an investigation by Erie County health officials.

Investigators have already ruled out a fatal bacteria such as E. coli, which is suspected in more than 800 cases near Albany, but they still do not know what left a majority of the players on some of the 16 teams in the tournament with vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and dizziness.

In Orchard Park, 12 of the team's 15 players became ill after the tournament. In other districts, the percentage was not as high -- three out of 11 in Iroquois for one -- but more than half of the teams were affected.

"We're aware of it. We're looking into it," said Jack Schwartz, an Erie County epidemiologist. "We don't have any solid evidence yet. We've contacted all the schools, through their school nurses, and we're interviewing the kids, asking what they ate."

Schwartz said the illness appeared to be of the 24-hour variety, and school officials said many of the students were returning to school by midweek.

Orchard Park Superintendent Charles L. Stoddart said the reports didn't raise any fears of E. coli because by the time the trend was noticed and the schools were notified on Tuesday, the Health Department already had determined the bacteria wasn't involved.

Clarence, the host school, reported roughly half of its team had been sick, Eden reported eight of its 15 players were ill and Frontier said it had three out of 11 sick.

Amherst, which didn't have school on Monday, and West Seneca West were two schools that apparently escaped unscathed, according to school officials. They were also eliminated in the pool-play portion of the tournament and left early, before the quarterfinals.

"We don't know, but we're assuming whatever made the other students sick was dispensed after we left," said Richard Sagar, West Seneca's superintendent.

Other schools participating in the all-day tournament included St. Francis of Athol Springs, Lancaster, Canisius, Lake Shore, Maryvale, Cheektowaga, Hamburg and Spencerport, a Rochester-area school.

Most of the students were returning to school by Wednesday, school officials said.

Although some school officials said the likely culprit was food, Schwartz said it was too early to be sure.

"It's too preliminary to tell," he said. "You don't know until you complete the interviews.

"It could be airborne, too. Coaches were saying there was a lot of sharing of water bottles, too. We have to have the data in front of us before we can make any kind of prognosis."

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