University officials confirmed yesterday that norovirus —
a highly contagious virus that spreads easily in close quarters
— caused the outbreak that began last week in Mary Markley
Residence Hall and recently spread to other residence halls such as
East Quad.

The health officials said they are making headway in fighting
the outbreak of viral gastroenteritis — commonly known as the
stomach flu — caused by the virus.

“I don’t think we’re done but this seems to be
coming under control,” University Health Service spokesman
Robert Winfield said.

Winfield added that although norovirus can be transmitted by
food, the University’s Department of Occupational Safety and
Environmental Health has been unable to link the Markley outbreak
to a food source, especially because food-borne outbreaks typically
occur in higher numbers.

“The University of North Carolina had an outbreak of 300
students earlier this year, and they were able to trace it back to
the salad bar in the cafeteria, but not which item in the bar was
the problem,” Winfield said.

“In this case we were not able to identify a common shared
food that would have caused this to be food-borne,” he
added.

Data collected by the Washtenaw County Health Department and
OSEH was sent to the Michigan Department of Community Health last
week, where the tests were conducted.

“We’ve been working together as a collaborative
team,” said Winfield.

He said he has a positive opinion about the University’s
handling of the viral outbreak.

“I’m pleased with the outcome so far. When you
consider that there are (many) students in Markley and it appears
that well less than 10 percent became sick, that’s really
good,” Winfield said.

Housing spokesman Alan Levy said in total, 93 students reported
themselves as having flu-like symptoms in the last week. But after
interviewing students, OSEH confirmed that 11 cases were not
related to the Markley outbreak.

“OSEH can say 11 of them have been eliminated for further
consideration because they either had symptoms unrelated to this,
or they weren’t even sick at all,” Levy said.
“The actual number of cases we’re still looking at is
82.”

Levy said two new cases were reported in East Quad Residence
Hall, and one case was reported in South Quad Residence Hall.

In addition, several new cases were reported in Markley, but as
OSEH continues to investigate the outbreak, they may be able to
eliminate more cases.

Levy said dining service employees will continue to take
precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We think we have very high standards to begin with. All
of that has been re-done in terms of communication to the staff the
high concerns of handling food safely. That’s across all
dining rooms, not just Markley, to make sure we are staying ahead
wherever there are possibilities of transmission,” Levy
said.

Both Levy and Winfield said that many of the precautions taken
by the University were directly related to norovirus.

“We decided that since we thought it was probably the germ
and since it’s the hardest to contain we would go ahead and
be as aggressive as we could be, feeling that that was the
appropriate thing to do in light of our suspicions,” Winfield
said.

Some students like LSA freshman Brad Lazarus seem to be less
worried about contracting the virus, as the number of cases
decreases. Lazarus is a Frederick House resident in South Quad,
where one student has been infected.

“It’s just what happens when everyone is living so
close together,” Lazarus said.

He added that he believes students are blowing the outbreak out
of proportion, and was generally satisfied with the ways in which
the University has dealt with the illness.

“I’m not worried at all. It seemed like (the
University) handled the situation very well,” Lazarus
said.

Winfield said students should follow the same procedures that
were recommended before the illness was confirmed as norovirus,
including staying in their dorm rooms for three days after the
virus has subsided to prevent spread.

Students can also visit UHS during the day, or call their
24-hour support line after hours at 662-5674.

In addition, students who are sick and living in residence halls
should notify hall staff to have their meals brought to their
rooms, get assistance with cleanup and obtain Virex, which is an
antiviral chemical used to kill viruses on high-contact surfaces
like doorknobs and countertops.

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