A student health advisory was sent out Friday to inform students of an outbreak of gastroenteritis, a contagious stomach virus spread through unsanitary food preparation.
Last Thursday morning, the Student Health Service said they noticed an increase in the number of cases of students with gastroenteritis and began to take steps to investigate the incidents.
Another gastroenteritis advisory was sent out by Student Health Services on Sunday stating that:
“Available information continues to suggest that this was an isolated, controlled event. Appropriate inspections of facilities by the Miami-Dade County Health Department have been completed.”
Student Health Services could not be reached for comment on the results of the inspection.
Many of the students who got sick said they believed they contacted the virus at the Mahoney/Pearson Dining Hall on Wednesday night.
“I’ll tell you right now that I got sick at the Pearson/Mahoney Dining Hall during their ‘Trip to Italy’ themed dinner,” junior Steven Webster said. “The trip caused a lot of turbulence and brought the plane down for a few days.”
“I started getting sick on Thursday night,” sophomore Johnny Rodriguez said. “I don’t want to eat at the dining halls anymore, but I really have no choice.”
“It’s a real pain in the ass,” Rodriguez said.
According to the student health advisory, symptoms came on suddenly and included nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The cases were mild to moderate in severity and were self-limiting in most cases.
Rodriguez says he experienced diarrhea, uncontrollable and painful stomach cramps and bloating.
“I was in bed lying in the fetal position until I fell asleep,” Webster said.
The number of cases peaked Thursday afternoon, and observation for additional cases continues.
Gastroenteritis is a contagious virus that irritates the stomach and small and large intestines. It is spread through close contact with infected persons and by eating or drinking foods or beverages that have been contaminated by food handlers who do not wash their hands regularly after using the bathroom.
Drinking water contaminated by sewage can also be a source of the virus.
Symptoms of infection begin within 48 hours of exposure and can last up to 10 days.
“I was sick within 30 minutes of eating,” Webster said.
Chartwells, the on-campus dining service, was unable to give any specifics regarding the situation.
“Without the factuals, there’s not much we can say,” said Don Koshis, Director of Resident Dining. “We are actively investigating probable causes including the air, water and the environment – our focus is not just on food.”
As the situation continues to be monitored, administration suggests careful adherence to standard hygiene measures and frequent hand washing. Individuals should also avoid sharing eating utensils, drinks and food with others.
“I haven’t eaten in the dining halls since I got sick,” Webster said. “I’ll eventually have to go in but I’m only going to eat cereal, salad and grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“If Chartwells is responsible for this, the management needs to be more strict with keeping stuff clean,” Rodriguez said.
The Student Health Service, which is usually closed on weekends, opened last Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon to answer any questions and provide any necessary care to students who may have been exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
Some students from the residence halls said that as soon as the cases of gastroenteritis became more frequent, the residential halls encouraged residents who felt sick to sign up at the front desk. These students later received a paper survey from the Health Center regarding gastroenteritis.
Mahoney/Pearson staff could not confirm that there was ever a list of affected individuals, but did confirm that paper surveys were distributed by word-of-mouth to residents who had reported being ill.
If you feel you may have been exposed to gastroenteritis or if you are currently experiencing some of the symptoms associated with the virus, contact the Student Health Service at 305-284-5927.
Jorge Arauz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org