Norovirus Sickens Georgetown Students

Over 170 Georgetown University students have recently fallen ill with the highly contagious <"">norovirus and officials have been struggling to contain the virus and limit its spread.  Students were nauseated, vomiting, and dehydrated, with most treated at hospitals.  One student was admitted for observation.

The norovirus can cause stomach cramping, fever, headaches, and diarrhea, but the quick-onset illness typically lasts only a day or two, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The virus is self-limiting, said Pierre Vigilance, director of the D. C. Department of Health.  “For most people, this is not a major problem.” There are concerns, however, with the elderly, the very young, and the immune suppressed, he said.

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.  Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said school officials are cleaning high-contact areas such as bathrooms, doorknobs, and handrails and were also cleaning more intensively than usual across campus.  Officials were also looking at who might have fallen ill by going through dorm rooms and speaking to students.  Officials also held a forum yesterday afternoon to explain the situation to students, emphasizing the importance of prevention, particularly hand-washing and cleanliness.  A hotline has been set up for parents.  “Our job now is to continue to treat the sick and, most importantly, to prevent the spread of the illness,” said James C. Welsh, assistant vice president for student health. “Hand-washing is going to be our mantra.”

The campus dining hall was closed by college administrators before dawn Wednesday when administration was first alerted to the initial wave of sick students; it was reopened last night after being inspected and sanitized.  Although many of the sick students had eaten there, public health officials continue to investigate the source of the virus. Vigilance said they are waiting for results from food samples and also said it appears that the norovirus was initially transmitted by a person, although it is possible it originated in the food chain.  Aramark is the food contractor for the dining hall; an Aramark spokesman declined to comment last night.

There is no cure for the virus. Patients sometimes need to be given fluids intravenously to combat the dehydration caused by frequent vomiting and diarrhea.  Many students received intravenous rehydration.  Junior Kevin Wessel, who knows three people who fell ill sick, said he was concerned about the possibility he could become ill. “I’ll definitely be washing my hands before I eat and taking all the precautions,” he said.

Wessel said he has noticed lots of not-so-clean plates at the dining hall, “which never filled me with confidence about the overall cleanliness there.” The school has done a good job of alerting students, he said, “even though it could make them look bad, instead of hiding it. We’ll see what they do to prevent it, to keep us safe.”

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