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Spread of stomach flu outbreak slows

BY FARAYHA ARRINE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 17, 2004

Preventive measures taken in the last two weeks to combat the
spread of viral gastroenteritis across campus are being cut down
because of a decline in “clusters of students”
contracting the disease, University Housing spokesman Alan Levy
said.

By the end of this week, University officials plan to gradually
phase out strict practices put into effect at the onset of the
outbreak on Feb. 5, Levy said.

Viral gastroenteritis, which University health officials said
was caused by norovirus, spread originally through Mark Markley
Residence Hall two weeks ago. Cases sprang up throughout campus,
including South Quad and Mosher-Jordan residence halls. Since the
outbreak began, 110 cases of the disease commonly known as stomach
flu have been reported on campus.

The University took precautionary measures to control the
outbreak, which included cleaning, disinfecting and special care in
making sure disease was not spread through food. However, now that
the situation appears to be under control, administrators are
pulling back on some of the more strict measures.

“Dining services is going to let go of some of its
precautionary practices,” Levy said.

Students who live in Markley Hall said they can now serve
themselves food in the dining hall and swipe their own M-card
— actions which had been prevented earlier.

Engineering freshman Fahim Islam, who lives on the fourth floor
of Reeves House in Markley, where the outbreak first appeared, said
students in his hall have become more lax on the hygiene guidelines
posted on bathroom doors.

Islam said students are ready to return things back to normal.
“Most students are just happy they don’t have to deal
with it anymore,” he said.

Despite toned-down restrictions, Levy said the University will
continue to serve food in the rooms of students who have contacted
viral gastroenteritis, and hand-washing stations outside of the
dining halls will become a permanent feature.

This week, routine cleaning and disinfecting will continue in
Markley Hall and on a need-only basis for the other residence
halls. But by the end of this week, these cleaning regulations will
end, Levy said.

The decision to cut down preventive measures was based on the
reduced numbers of students who have recently contracted the
disease. Only seven cases of viral gastroenteritis were reported
over the weekend, Levy said.

He added that the outbreak caused concern because it occurred in
close proximity and affected students experienced the same
symptoms.

Robert Ernst, associate director of University Health Service,
and UHS Director Robert Winfield provided medical advice to housing
officials on how to best handle the outbreak, and they said they
now support the reduction of measures.

Ernst said the cases of viral gastroenteritis are more spread
out now — occurring more equally in residence halls and
off-campus housing — whereas before they had taken place
primarily in the residence halls. Because of the declining number
of cases in one particular location, Ernst said the outbreak was at
“background levels.”

Ernst and Winfield, along with state public health officials,
are monitoring and analyzing cases of the disease. Last week, as
soon as one case of the virus was reported in a particular dorm,
disinfecting procedures were implemented, Ernst said.

He credited their immediate action in controlling viral
gastroenteritis as the cause of a successful stop to its
spread.


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