GI Infection Identified

By Zachary Gotthardt
SC Staff Writer

Recently, campus was struck by a gastrointestinal infection that affected more than 100 students. Dozens were hospitalized, which added to the panic in the community. Since the outbreak began several weeks ago, many rumors have spread like the plague. The Department of Health has since identified the pathogen as a norovirus.

At the February 19 Council of Trustees meeting, Maria Hackney, Director of University Health Services, said, “We’ve been in contact with the Department of Health throughout this entire situation. They did a lot of testing when the first students were presented at the emergency room back on the 11th and on the 12th… They did come back as positive for norovirus; therefore… it is a true virus.”

According to the CDC, a norovirus is an incredibly contagious gastrointestinal virus. The virus can be spread by contaminated food, water, surfaces, and contact with infected individuals. The virus replicates in the small  intestine, with symptoms appearing after one to two days.

Symptoms are those of acute gastroenteritis, including stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, fever, headaches, and bodily aches may occur. Symptoms typically last between one to three days. Dehydration can also result.

Dehydration is what hospitalized ESU students, and it can be fatal if left untreated. Each year, norovirus is responsible for 570 to 800 deaths in the US and 200,000 deaths worldwide. The majority of these cases are in less developed countries and among the young and elderly.

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne disease in the US, and is responsible for up to 50 percent of outbreaks. In many cases, the symptoms cause it to be labeled “food poisoning.”

Despite being potentially foodborne, this does not necessarily mean the virus originated in Dansbury Commons, a rumor that traveled around campus at the height of the outbreak.

As with any communicable disease, infection rates are highest in densely populated areas, such as campuses and cafeterias. The virus is easily spread through shared food and drink.

Recovering individuals are among the most contagious. Students who returned to class could have unknowingly infected their classmates. Any infected surface can cause infection weeks later if left untreated.

Because of this communicability, the virus could have originated anywhere, and not just the cafeteria.

Currently, there is no vaccine for norovirus. The best form of prevention is washing hands, especially after using the restroom. The CDC recommends decontaminating all possible surfaces, a practice that was carried out by custodial staff across campus directly following the outbreak.

Hackney said, “We’re really stressing the importance of cleanliness, and most importantly washing your hands. This virus is an illness that is easily transmitted because it is an oral/fecal kind of illness. We are encouraging everyone to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, and clean any hard surfaces.”

The norovirus family is large, with each member causing similar symptoms. For this reason, prior exposure does not grant immunity.

Additionally, there is no specific medicine to treat norovirus or its symptoms. The best course of action is to drink an excess of fluids. Caffeine-free drinks work best, and sports drinks are recommended.

However, staying hydrated may be difficult due to nausea. Severe dehydration can be treated with an IV in a hospital.

Though incidences of the norovirus have declined since its appearance in early February, students are still encouraged to practice preventative measures.

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