Thirty-six cases of gastroenteritis had been reported on campus as of midday Tuesday, according to Medical Director of the Davison Health Center P. Davis Smith, M.D. However, this number may not reflect the amount of unreported cases, of which there may be many more.
The Health Center requested that a census be taken of students in residence halls in an attempt to establish how many students were symptomatic and where cases were most concentrated, suggesting a much higher number of cases than reported. While official numbers since Tuesday are not available, the Health Center said that the number of reported cases have declined.
Though testing is currently being done to determine the exact cause of symptoms, Smith said that the University’s outbreak appears to be consistent with the norovirus.
“Gastroenteritis is vomiting and diarrhea, and there are a number of different things that cause it,” Smith said. “Around this time of year, especially with outbreaks, norovirus usually turns out to be the cause. There have been outbreaks in some of the high schools in Middletown, so the norovirus is around, and it’s around in Boston. It’s the most likely thing.”
Smith noted that further information about the specific cause would not affect his recommendations for handling the outbreak. Students should wash hands with soap and water frequently and avoid communal foods with which others might have had contact in order to prevent the spread of the illness. Those experiencing symptoms should minimize the risk of exposing others to the virus, avoid eating or drinking for at least two hours after last vomiting, and notify the health center if symptoms are particularly severe.
“It’s nice to be able to pin the cause down and we’d like to do that, even though the results will come in long after people are better,” Smith said.
A contact at the Department of Health told the Health Center that, though there was a cluster of cases on Monday night, the pattern of the virus’ spread suggests that transmission occurs through person-to-person contact rather than from a single point source of origin. Smith noted that he received fewer calls about new symptomatic cases on Tuesday night than Monday night, and suggested that communal food eaten at Superbowl parties on Sunday might have contributed to the spike in cases on Monday.
“We wonder, because of the timing of things, if it spread because of Superbowl parties with bowls of shared food…because if there’s one incompletely clean hand in there, then it can spread to everyone,” Smith said.
Director of Usdan University Center Michelle Myers-Brown said that due to the fact that the virus is spread through person-to-person contact, there aren’t many additional steps to be taken in the dining halls beyond encouraging cleanliness and changing self-serve utensils out more frequently. According to an all-campus email sent by the Health Center, the University will also be increasing cleaning in bathrooms in order to reduce contamination.