WHO DUNIT Was it the vegetable medley or the herb linguini?

As word spreads of the mysterious gastrointestinal illness that has plagued campus since last week, Student Health Services and the Miami-Dade County Health Department are actively investigating the incidents and are conducting a controlled study of both infected and uninfected students.
“We are investigating multiple areas with a focus on the Mahoney/Pearson area,” said Dr. Anapol, assistant professor of clinical medicine involved with the investigation at UM. “Although a lot of students feel that they got sick during the ‘Trip to Italy’ dinner, the incubation period for this type of illness is usually longer than a couple of hours.”
“We know that this is a type of gastrointestinal illness, but a specific illness cannot be confirmed as of yet,” Anapol said.
The administration has taken active steps to ensure that another outbreak does not occur.
“There was a group of workers wearing industrial rubber boots cleaning out the dining hall on Tuesday night around midnight,” Steven Webster, a student who contracted the illness, said. “I feel a little better, but I’m still skeptical when I go in there.”
According to Anapol, these types of precautionary measures have been going on since the first cases of the illness were reported.
“We took some initial precautions early on even though there was no immediate need to do so,” he said. “We cleaned the elevator buttons and turned off the water fountains around Mahoney/Pearson just in case.”
Throughout the week, representatives from the Miami-Dade Health Department visited the Coral Gables campus to interview both infected and uninfected individuals. On Tuesday, representatives were downstairs in the Mahoney/Pearson residence hall handing out survey forms and speaking with students about some of the symptoms of the illness.
“We are in the process of conducting a case-control study,” said Juan Suarez, regional environmental epidemiologist from the Miami-Dade Health Department. “We will be interviewing people randomly to determine different possible modes of exposure.”
Some of the students who have been infected have already conducted an interview with the Miami-Dade Department of Health.
“I did a pretty basic interview over the phone,” sophomore Johnny Rodriguez said. “They asked me what I had to drink, if I’d been out of Miami-Dade county recently – that type of stuff.”
“We are trying to get as much detailed information as possible,” Suarez said.
According to Student Health Services, approximately 30 people have sought medical attention, mostly for dehydration; however, many more are thought to have suffered from the illness, although they did not report it, said several students.
At least one person has gone to the emergency room overnight to receive fluids for dehydration, according to Anapol.
On Tuesday afternoon, WSVN Channel 7 News held a live broadcast on the UM campus and interviewed several students who felt they had been affected by the illness.
“We are confident that a significant enough amount of time has passed since the initial cases were reported,” Anapol said. “The window for the possibility of any secondary cases has passed.”
According to the Miami-Dade Health Department, at least two of those individuals who have sought medical attention have been Chartwells employees who work at the Mahoney/Pearson Resident Dining Hall.
“We want to stress the fact that these individuals could have been affected by a cold or some other unrelated type of illness,” Suarez explained. “Their specific illness has not been determined as of yet, and there has been no conclusive evidence to relate these cases to the students who have been affected.”
Suarez also clarified rumors of the possibility that this campus outbreak could be linked to the recent Norwalk virus outbreaks on the Holland America cruiseline.
“We are currently investigating the possibility that there is a connection between the two,” Suarez said. “Primarily we are focusing on the possible connection between relatives of students who may have been on board one of the affected cruises.”
“We are trying to pinpoint the specific cause,” Anapol said. “This seems to be an isolated event, although we have observed a couple of outliers.”
The Health Center has posted an updated health survey on their website, and both affected and non-affected students are urged to complete the questionnaire.
The results of the control group survey will be compared to the information gathered from those who have been affected by the illness.
“In situations like this, investigations and questioning could last as long as two weeks,” Dr. Anapol said. “Preliminary evidence specimens can take weeks to analyze after they are sent to the lab.”
As of press time, the Miami-Dade Health Department had interviewed over 60 individuals.
Preliminary results will be available Friday.
If you feel you have the symptoms associated with a gastrointestinal illness such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and headaches you are strongly urged to contract Juan Suarez or Edhelene Rico from the Miami-Dade Health Department at 305-324-2413.

November 22, 2002


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.