By Natalia Maldonado
More than 200 students living in the Hecht, Stanford and Eaton residence halls reported symptoms of a gastrointestinal illness [GI] over a 24-hour period that started on the evening of Dec. 15, when many students were getting ready to leave campus for winter break.
Dr. Howard Anapol, Director of Student Health Services, first received a call early in the evening about a student with stomach illness.
“It sounded like a typical call,” Anapol said. “I later received a call from a resident master. He told me that there were many sick students, some at the emergency room.”
Over the next 24 hours more students reported symptoms, which included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in some cases, fever. The Miami-Dade County Public Health Department [MCPH] was on campus Dec. 16 to investigate the cause of the illness.
Although the final report has not been released yet, results suggest that the outbreak was caused by Norovirus, a group of viruses that cause stomach flu or gastrointestinal illness and are spread by coming in contact with food or people infected with the virus.
“It started a few hours after I’d eaten,” Reed Hoffman, freshman, said. “I was packing to go home and I couldn’t do anything. I had no energy and started throwing up all night. I had to change my flight [home] till the day after.”
Though the timing of the outbreak seemed unfortunate to most, the winter break actually helped reduce the risk of re-infection on campus, since the virus can be active for days or weeks before it dies off, Dr. Anapol said. In addition, the University used the time off to disinfect the affected areas.
|“The last night [before break] was ridiculous. There were people throwing up all over the place. They had to call the paramedics.”
“During the break, the University cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized all common surfaces to include all bathrooms on campus and all food service facilities,” Mel Tenen, director of Auxiliary Services, said. “The guidelines used for that cleaning were provided by the Miami-Dade County Health Department.”
According to Linda Gilardi, director of Quality Assurance for Compass Group, of which Chartwells is a member, outbreaks of Norovirus are fairly common, especially in crowded areas. A similar case occurred early in January when about 100 passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise were sick with Norovirus-like symptoms.
“It’s prevalent in South Florida in this climate,” Gilardi said. “It seems to emerge every winter. They call it the winter flu.”
Although most students felt better within one or two days, some felt the experience was more than inconvenient. A group on TheFacebook.com titled “I survived Chart[well]’s food poisoning” had 38 members and stated “real good planning, Charties, thanks from the bottom of my aching, vomiting stomach.”
Matt Rosenberg, freshman, joined the group on TheFacebook.com after he spent all day vomiting, unable to eat.
“The last night [before break] was ridiculous,” Rosenberg said. “There were people throwing up all over the place. They had to call the paramedics.”
The MCPH inspected all university facilities and found no violations.
“They’ve been here three times for three inspections after the GI breakout,” Tenen said. “They have found no violations at UM. For that matter, they have found no violations for the past two years.”
Inspections of the food facilities consisted of investigations of cleanliness, hygiene, safe food handling practices and proper temperatures for both cold and heated foods.
According to the health report from MCPH, “[the sickness] was not a result of food poisoning, rather an exposure to Norovirus.” The illness may have been spread by point-source contact, meaning that many people became sick simultaneously and that the source of illness cannot be pin-pointed to one person or food.
Precautions that can be taken to avoid coming in contact with Norovirus include paying strict attention to hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before consumption, and keeping all toilet areas clean.
For more information on the gastrointestinal illness on campus visit www.miami.edu/student-health.
Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org