Norovirus outbreak hits college campuses
Penn's Student Health Service has yet to see an increase in norovirus-related symtpoms
February 17, 2012, 12:28 am · Updated February 20, 2012, 11:04 pm·
What some refer to as “the cruise ship virus” is spreading around many college campuses in the northeast.
According to a statement released by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health last month, instances of norovirus, also known as the stomach flu, are on the uptick.
Though Penn’s Student Health Services have not seen an increase in Norovirus symtpoms — which include vomitting, diarrhea, fever and cramps — they are closely tracking instances of the virus, as well as other communicable diseases, according to SHS director Evelyn Wiener.
However, numerous universities around the country have experienced outbreaks in the past weeks. At Princeton University, at least 190 students have been affected in the past two weeks, according to The Daily Princetonian. It is the largest outbreak in the past 10 years. At New Jersey’s Rider University, 44 students were hospitalized due to the illness this week, The Star-Ledger reports. At George Washington University, about 85 students were affected, according to Fox News.
Norovirus is commonly reported in institutional settings. “Being an underclassman in a dormitory may be a risk factor,” said David Pegues, Healthcare Epidemiology, Infection Prevention and Control medical director at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Ware College House Resident Advisor and College junior Andrew Jakubowski said the virus has not become an issue in his hall.
“I have faith that they’re healthy,” he said, adding that norovirus is not a pertinent issue at Penn yet. “We don’t want to cause any fear if it’s not going to be an issue.”
The virus has also hit many cruise ships. This month, three ships have seen outbreaks of the virus.
PDPH spokesperson Jeff Moran said Philadelphia is not experiencing an outbreak and that the department sends out an alert to medical providers about the illness every year.
Norovirus has been problematic in the past. In 2008 and 2009, it was the most common cause of infectious outbreaks in U.S. hospitals, according to Philly.com.
“It’s an illness that comes and goes,” Moran said.
Although the virus doesn’t normally cause any short- or long term-complications in young and healthy people, it is highly contagious and can make someone very sick, Pegues said.
“You don’t need to be exposed to many virus particles to become ill,” he said. “It most commonly causes acute gastrointestinal illness.”
He explained that besides coming into contact with people with norovirus, contaminated surfaces, and even foods such as oysters, which are bottom-feeders, could transmit the illness.
Wiener wrote in an email that the illness generally lasts 48 hours, and that the best way to avoid contracting it is frequently washing your hands.
Like Wiener, Pegues believes handwashing is important. But because it can be contracted from surfaces, cleaning with solutions that contain bleach can also help.
There’s no set treatment for the virus since it’s a viral infection, Pegues said. “Treatment is symptomatic.”
He recommends patients maintain adequate hydration and buy oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialite. He also advocates for a diet with bland foods and foods with low fat and sugar content.