An outbreak of Norovirus has sickened at least 87 undergraduates and several staff members in recent weeks, including a Dining Services worker, the University confirmed at a Wednesday press conference.

Dr. Ralph Manchester, Vice Provost and Director of University Health Service (UHS), first reported suspicion of Norovirus on Saturday with an email to undergraduates.

At the time, Manchester wrote that UHS had identified roughly 20 undergraduates with sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. He recommended that students follow Center for Disease Control (CDC)  guidelines and pay close attention to hand hygiene.

The University, Environmental Health and Safety, and the Monroe County Health Department have been working together to determine the source of the outbreak.

Cam Schauf, Director of Campus Dining Services, said, “there are absolutely no indications that it started with food or any of the dining facilities and we continue to work with Monroe County Public Health to rule out food as the source of the outbreak.”

Statistics from other outbreaks, though, don’t rule out dining-based infection.

“Over 50 percent of Norovirus outbreaks are related to ill food handlers,” Dr. Timothy Moody, Chairman of the Emerging Public Health Threats & Emergency Response Coalition of the American College Health Association, said. “Other reasons for a large outbreak are contaminated surfaces, such as when someone vomits in a public area.”

Junior Sara Peterson says her experience with the virus contributed to the latter. On Saturday, she was eating at local barbeque restaurant Sticky Lips when she was hit with a sudden wave of nausea.

“We had literally just walked in and I had asked for two waters because I was thirsty all of a sudden,” Peterson said. “And I looked at my roommate and said, ‘Will you come to the bathroom with—‘ and on ‘me’ is when I spewed across the table. I gasped and before I could do anything I puked again […] I took a couple steps and knew I wasn’t going to make it to the bathroom, so I stopped and went back to puke in the same place, condense the mess.”

The reaction in the restaurant was not positive.

“Everyone was just looking at me and a couple of people stood up and left,” she said. “It was awful.”

Peterson went back to her dorm and suffered through the remainder of her time with the virus in a less public area.

“I was sick for the rest of Saturday and then I slept basically all of [Sunday],” she said. On Monday, she felt a little better in the morning, and felt like the virus had passed by the end of the day.

According to the CDC, normal physical contact, not just vomiting, from an ill individual can infect a surface.

To combat this risk, the University has brought in ServPro to disinfect surfaces in public areas, and, on Tuesday, announced that it will be suspending self-service dining operations on campus because of the quantity of ill students.

It also noted in its email to undergraduates that “the CDC recommends that individuals who have contracted the Norovirus not go into public areas for 48 hours after their symptoms have ended.”

An IMPACT petition started Tuesday, which, as of the following night, had garnered over 300 signatures, demanded that the school cancel classes to combat the bug.

“We have talked with other schools that have made the decision to do that, but they were smaller schools with a much higher attack rate,” Manchester said of cancelling classes at Wednesday’s press conference. “We have no plans to suspend classes.”

Additionally, he said there were no plans to cancel Dandelion Day or any of its events.

Manchester did note, however, that UHS “issued guidance to faculty that those who have mandatory class attendance policies need to suspend that while we are going through this outbreak.”

Moody supports the school’s stance on class closure, if not on a large event like a concert.

“I’m not aware of any evidence that just canceling classes will help control a large Norovirus outbreak on a college campus,” he said. “Targeted closure and cleaning of dining facilities and food service areas, and cancellation of large events, makes more sense.”

Additionally, the school has brought Clorox wipes to students for use in their dorm and suite areas, along with making them available at UHS. Laurel Contomanolis, Executive Director of Residential Life and Housing Services, personally handed out wipes to students in some campus residence halls.

Moody, on handling Norovirus, urges schools to “emphasize good hand washing, proper food handling, and the need for food handlers to excuse themselves from work if they are symptomatic with a GI illness as a way to prevent or control outbreaks. Messages regarding self-care targeted to students who are ill are always appropriate.”

He further recommends frequent reminders to staff and students regarding the above recommendations. The University has already sent four emails in five days to keep students updated and remind them of these steps.

Incoming Students’ Association President Vito Martino was not immune to infection.

“I just took a step into my bedroom, dropped the bag, and ran to the restroom,” he said.“It was a vicious cycle.

The members of his fraternity, Delta Upsilon, are taking their own steps to ensure safety from the virulent bug.

“Everyone is trying to quarantine themselves,” he added.

Overall, students infected seem to share similar sentiments on the outbreak:

“Would not wish it on any enemies.”

“You do not want this. It is hell on earth.”

“It was a disaster.”

To avoid getting the Norovirus yourself, please remember to follow the following guidelines:

Because the Norovirus particles can live on surfaces for weeks, the most effective protection against becoming infected is proper and frequent handwashing.

The CDC recommends that individuals who have contracted the Norovirus not go into public areas for 48 hours after their symptoms have ended.  

Repeated and daily cleaning using the Clorox germicidal wipes, which are proven to be very effective against the Norovirus, will limit the spread of the virus particles on surfaces.

Tagged: Norovirus

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