Norovirus at University of Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) officials are reporting that at least 45 students who live in the same residence hall there “have reported falling ill with symptoms of gastroenteritis since November 7”, according to The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel (JS Online).  It seems that the illnesses may have been caused by a <"">norovirus, said Mary Makarushka, communications manager at UW’s University Health Services to JS Online. The students all live in Sellery Hall—one of UW’s largest residence halls, “which houses 1,100 students”—Makarushka said to the JS Online. “There are no plans to close the residence hall,” Makarushka was quoted as saying to JS Online.  “Between 20 and 30 residents of Sellery 6A have been fighting the virus since Thursday,” reported The Badger Herald, which also picked up the story.

The norovirus can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, fever, headaches, chills, muscle ache, tiredness, and diarrhea.  The norovirus strikes quickly, but generally only lasts for one or two days, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.  Norovirus is not one, but actually a group of viruses, that spreads easily and swiftly through direct contact with an infected person or through contaminated food, drink, or objects.  

Vomiting and diarrhea appeared as the most common symptoms in this outbreak, according to Craig Roberts, an epidemiologist for the college’s University Health Services speaking to The Badger Herald.  Other common problems include nausea and headaches, the paper notes.  Symptoms generally appear within 12 to 60 hours after exposure and last for about 48 hours; the norovirus is often mistaken for the flu because it causes acute gastroenteritis in humans, notes The Badger Herald.

The Badger Herald pointed out that Roberts noted that the norovirus spreads through stool-to-mouth contact.  The norovirus enters the body through the mouth and is then passed on via the stool or vomit of an infected person, according to The Badger Herald.  This can happen, for instance, when someone touches the hand of an infected person or by touching vomit- or feces-contaminated surfaces that have not been properly sanitized, the paper wrote.  To avoid catching the disease, the Badger Herald stated, according to Roberts residents should “be overly cautious and wash their hands frequently,” adding,  “It is very important to wash your hands after you use the bathroom and before you eat,” Roberts said.  The virus can also be spread by fecally-contaminated food or water.

“A similar outbreak occurred in December 2006 and January 2007 throughout Madison, Wisconsin,” The Badger Herald revealed.  In that outbreak, over “100 people contracted the norovirus at the Veterans Hospital, Monona Terrace, the Willows Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and the Edgewater Hotel,” the paper confirmed.   Also, WDIV-TV news in Mid-Michigan reports that Hope College in Michigan is currently recovering from an outbreak of the norovirus, in which about 420 students, faculty, and staff reported coming down with the virus since late last week.

Last month we reported that the norovirus had sickened nearly 200 Georgetown University students; most were treated at hospitals.  One student required hospital admission for observation.  In that outbreak, the campus dining hall was closed by college administrators when they were first alerted to the initial wave of sick students. The dining hall remained closed until it was fully sanitized.

There is no cure for the norovirus.  Patients sometimes need to be given fluids intravenously to combat the dehydration caused by frequent vomiting and diarrhea.  In the Georgetown outbreak, many students did require intravenous rehydration.

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