Norovirus Blamed in Outbreak at Georgetown University

 

By Susan Kinzie

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008; 3:04 PM

 

Source of Article:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/10/02/ST2008100202174.html

The cause of more than 146 Georgetown University students being sickened in recent days was a norovirus, university and public health officials said today.

The virus can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected person, eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated liquid, or by hand-to-mouth contact after touching an object that is contaminated.

Officials made the announcement as the university dining hall remained closed today.

Administrators were alerted to the growing number of students suffering from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea late Tuesday and decided to shut down the campus dining hall yesterday. Many of the students who became ill had eaten at the Leo J. O'Donovan Dining Hall, known as Leo's.

In an e-mail message to the campus community this morning, Todd A. Olson, vice president for student affairs, assured students that the meals provided temporarily at the student center today were from fresh deliveries, with no exposure to the food preparation areas at Leo's.

All of the affected students have been treated and released. Some were so sick that their heart rates were elevated by dehydration, Eric Glasser, assistant chief of emergency medicine at Georgetown University Hospital, said yesterday, and they were given fluids intravenously.

University officials notified students about the illness and the closing of the dining hall with an early morning e-mail yesterday, causing a stir among students focused on midterm exams.

"I'm grossed out by the whole thing, definitely," said freshman Charlie Nocker, who was eating chicken nuggets, rice and cookies at the student center. The night before, he had talked to a friend who had rushed her roommate to the hospital instead of studying for two exams. "She's really slammed," Nocker said.

Many students said they weren't particularly worried about becoming ill. Some even celebrated briefly yesterday afternoon: Study-group members in the student center hugged when they got an e-mail announcing that their exam would be delayed.

Food services at Georgetown are contracted out to Aramark, Olson said. Company executives did not return a call seeking comment.

Public health officials are questioning students about where and what they ate, collecting food samples and checking the preparation of meals and the sources of food, said Peggy Keller, chief of the bureau of community hygiene for the D.C. health department. They were hoping to finish within 48 hours, she said.

John Davies-Cole of the health department said he did not know when the dining hall was last inspected. Olson said it is inspected at least a couple of times a year. "We have gotten very high marks for cleanliness and safety," Olson said.

Although the investigation was ongoing, some students said that some of the people who became sick had eaten the Hoya Wrap. Named after the school's nickname, it's a pre-made sandwich with chicken and sauce wrapped in a tortilla.

Taylor Dana, a pre-med freshman from Toledo, said she had grabbed one for a quick lunch Tuesday. By her afternoon varsity crew practice, her stomach was hurting so badly that she thought she was going to be sick while she was out on the water, she said. At a seminar afterward, she excused herself and vomited in a bathroom, then dragged herself back to her dorm in the rain, she said, throwing up again along the way. Her roommate brought her books and key back after class, and found her on the floor in the hall. She and the resident adviser for the hall persuaded Dana to get help and called an ambulance to take her to the emergency room.

Dana was one of the first students there, she said, and doctors initially wanted to check for appendicitis or other possible causes of the acute pain. But within minutes, Dana said, the halls were full of other students arriving and being put into beds.

"I could hear they were all throwing up," she said yesterday afternoon, looking exhausted in sweat pants and flip-flops. "It was really bad."

After getting fluids by IV and some stomach pain relievers, she was able to get some sleep, and she left the hospital early yesterday. On her way out, she saw a crew teammate, just checking into the hospital with the same symptoms.

 

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