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Health officials identify campus norovirus outbreak

The U. has not seen a norovirus outbreak in almost 10 years, Health Services said

A stomach bug spreading through campus was identified as a norovirus by the Rhode Island Department of Health yesterday afternoon, said Edward Wheeler, director of Health Services for the University.

Since Sunday, one student has been admitted to the emergency room with the virus, and 18 others have visited one, Wheeler said, adding that 49 students in total have contacted Health Services with symptoms.

The “highly contagious” virus is found in stool and vomit, Wheeler said. It can be transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces but is not airborne, he said, adding that Facilities Management is providing extra cleaning to dorms and athletic centers this week to help prevent further spreading.

Though people with the illness are scattered throughout campus, the “epicenter is the whole Keeney Quadrangle area,” Wheeler said. “I think it’s the numbers of people,” he said, adding that shared bathrooms could contribute to the disease’s spread.

Health Services reached out to the Department of Health Sunday, when staff saw the number of students with gastrointestinal symptoms spike, Wheeler said. Health Services normally only sees three or four students with gastrointestinal symptoms per week, he said. The Department of Health provided materials for collecting sick students’ stool samples, which its labs tested to determine the illness patients contracted, he said.

The state laboratory confirmed two samples as positive for norovirus, said Dara Chadwick, chief officer of health promotion at the Department of Health. “For the purpose of determining if this is in fact a norovirus outbreak, two cases is enough, she said.

“One of the number one things that people can do (to prevent contracting or spreading the disease) is to use good hand hygiene,” Chadwick said.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are not nearly as effective as soap and water in killing norovirus germs, Wheeler said, adding that because an infected person can go several days without showing symptoms, everyone must take precautions.

Norovirus symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, Wheeler said. Symptoms typically subside in one to two days, Wheeler added.

Five or six of King House’s 28 residents came down with the bug last week with varying severity and duration, said Max Genecov ’15. He said he experienced symptoms for nearly a week and was hospitalized for dehydration.

Katie Finn ’16 said the illness was “really severe but then went away really quickly.” She got sick Monday night but said she felt too ill to go to Health Services.

“(Noroviruses) are the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States,” Wheeler said, adding that the last outbreak at Brown occurred seven or eight years ago.

Spring break vacancies will provide Facilities Management with additional time to clean and remove disease-causing germs, Wheeler said.

Students with norovirus symptoms who feel dizzy, find blood in their vomit, have difficulty urinating or experience other symptoms of dehydration may need medical attention and should contact a doctor, Chadwick said. The Health Services website contains guidelines for self-care and assessing whether visiting the doctor is necessary, Wheeler said.



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