UPDATE: Norovirus outbreak affects nearly 100 students

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 8:20pm

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On Wednesday, approximately 75 to 100 were confirmed to be experiencing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, according to an email sent by Dr. Robert Winfield, executive director of UHS.

Though initially suspected to be food poisoning stemming from South Quad dining hall, UHS currently believes the outbreak is a viral illness, most likely norovirus.

Symptoms of this illness include abdominal pain, nausea, fever, diarrhea and vomiting, occasionally referred to as the “stomach flu.”  

As of Tuesday night, Winfield had already confirmed 20 to 25 individuals were in the emergency room with the suspected illness.

“This began sometime last evening, and people continued to be sick through the night, and the morning — some people showing improvement,” Winfield said in an interview Tuesday.

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In an effort to find the cause of the outbreak, Dr. Winfield has partnered with the chief of the University Hospital’s ER, the head of infection control and Laura Bauman, epidemiologist at the Washtenaw County Health Department.

“We have tested a number of people who are sick by taking stool cultures and sending them to Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing," Winfield said. "It takes about three to five days to receive results back for norovirus testing.”

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UHS advises students who believe they may have the virus to quarantine themselves in their rooms for 48 hours, and are no longer experiencing the symptoms.

Of those individuals who became ill and sought out help, they tended to live in either South Quad Residence Hall or West Quad Residence Hall. However, there were four cases that had no affiliation with either facility in the last few days, UHS reported.

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“There are three ways an outbreak can occur,” Dr. Winfield said. “This is a season where the norovirus, or the cruise ship virus, infections can become prevalent — it’s a very contagious virus and it’s harder to kill with regular cleaning supplies. The second way can be food-related, and symptoms usually occur six to 10 hours within consumption. The third potential cause is from germs that are alive inside some kind of food — things like E. coli and Salmonella.”

The Office of Public Affairs, University Housing and the University Health Service said there is no determination on the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea outbreak that has occurred on campus.

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The dining halls also reported no absences of their student staff.

LSA freshman Sean Lang said he believed he was experiencing food poisoning.

“Yesterday all I had to eat was a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats before my 9 a.m.,” Lang said. “Later, I ate at SQuad again, and I got a stomach ache around six and things went downhill from there. I got a pretty bad headache and began having diarrhea, and then around 11 at night I puked, but only once — other people I've spoken to have complained about puking through the night.”

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Amir Baghdadchi, University Housing's communications director, said they do not currently have any information on the matter other than the reports of illness in both students and faculty.

“At the moment there are reports across campus of both students and staff falling ill,” Baghdadchi said. "We’re working with University Health Service to both treat the students and ascertain what the cause is. We have no information that suggests that food poisoning is the case at this moment. We in University Housing don’t have information about it.”

Those affected remain contagious from the moment they fall ill until at least 3 days after their recoveries.  Transmission can take place by touching contaminated objects or surfaces then touching your own mouth or face.  Consuming contaminated foods or drinks or coming into contact with others who are ill can also lead one to become sick.

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Students are advised to wash their hands frequently and maintain good personal hygiene, and to make an appointment at UHS if they experience any of the aforementioned symptoms.

South Quad resident Johnny Goldenberg, an LSA freshman, said he was surprised by the University's decision not to notify residents immediately, adding some resident advisors said they were notified.

“It's wrong to try to cover it up and not warn students whatsoever,” he said.

Goldenberg added he feels the University did not properly acknowledge the situation early enough, possibly contributing to the spread of the potential virus.

“It's just weird because if people went to the hospital last night, people have been eating the entire day (at South Quad) and even if it's gone, they could at least be like 'some of these foods might have stuff in them be careful' but there was nothing,” Goldenberg. “And a lot of people are really mad about this. In my opinion it's really a mishandling of the situation. Because people have finals too, people cannot get sick right now and people are barfing their brains out.”

For students within LSA feeling ill, UHS asks them to fill out this form if they have to miss class.