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Gastrointestinal illness outbreak hits campus

Nineteen students have reported symptoms, but the virus is still unknown

Nineteen students have reported symptoms of gastrointestinal illness since Saturday night, said Edward Wheeler, medical director of Health Services.

Three students have visited the emergency room, but none were admitted, he said. The outbreak has been concentrated in Goddard House, where 13 of the students who have reported symptoms live.

Wheeler announced the outbreak in an email to undergraduates Tuesday afternoon.

The symptoms suggest a viral illness and may mark a recurrence of a norovirus outbreak, which affected about 50 students in March, Wheeler said.

Health Services has collected three stool samples from infected students and sent them to the Rhode Island Department of Health’s state lab to determine what the illness is, Wheeler said.

As of Saturday afternoon, the lab had not yet received the samples, said Erica Collins, communications and media coordinator at the Department of Health. Once samples arrive, they can usually be processed and tested within eight hours, she said.

The Department of Health is not aware of any current outbreaks in the state beyond Brown, Collins said.

Katie Sudol ’16, who lives in Goddard, said she developed symptoms overnight last weekend, waking up Sunday morning feeling very sick.

Sudol said she went to Health Services Monday feeling slightly better but still not at full health. Health Services advised her to hydrate well and gave her temperature strips to monitor her fever. By Tuesday, Sudol said, her symptoms had passed.

Facilities Management is increasing its cleaning services to combat the illness’ spread, Wheeler wrote in the email. The heightened cleaning efforts will “predominantly” be focused on Goddard unless an outbreak occurs elsewhere, he told The Herald.

Vice President for Facilities Management Stephen Maiorisi could not be reached for comment on whether Facilities will ramp up cleaning efforts in other dorms or in academic and athletic buildings.

The actual number of cases is likely higher than 19 because some students probably opt for self-care rather than calling or visiting Health Services, Wheeler said. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, but the illness is “short-lived” and usually lasts just one or two days, Wheeler said, adding that staying hydrated facilitates recovery.

Wheeler said Health Services is emphasizing prevention, and his email set out preventive measures like proper hand hygiene.

Health Services and the Department of Health both have information on their websites detailing how to prevent the spread of the illness.

Prior to last spring, the last norovirus outbreak on campus was nearly a decade ago, The Herald reported in March.

If the illness students have reported is in fact norovirus, Wheeler said he is unsure what would have led to outbreaks in consecutive semesters, but he said there has been a general increase in norovirus cases over the last decade nationally.


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