University suspects campus-wide illness to be caused by Norovirus
April 17, 2017
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Northwestern officials suspect the cause of a recent illness outbreak among on-campus residences to be Norovirus.
Executive director of residential services Jennifer Luttig-Komrosky sent out an email April 10 announcing reports of an illness in residential housing with symptoms of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The majority of cases have been reported in fraternity and sorority housing, Luttig-Komrosky said. Northwestern University Health Service has since then released an update through their website, which states Norovirus as the most probable cause, providing a list of cautionary actions students should take.
In addition to avoiding or limiting contact with infected people, Health Service’s recommendations to students include frequently washing hands; refraining from sharing food, drinks or eating utensils; and cleaning all infected areas thoroughly.
Robert Dennis Palinkas, executive director of Health Service, said Norovirus is common in areas where large groups live together.
“This is a ubiquitous virus, very common virus in the environment, and it’s not uncommon to have the occasional outbreak like we are hearing reports of,” Palinkas said. “This is the very same virus that has been implicated in outbreaks on ships and other types of facilities.”
Despite the illness reports, Palinkas said little can be done to prevent viral infections such as Norovirus other than continued good hygiene practices. People do not develop immunity to the common virus and there is no existing vaccine to prevent it, he said.
In response to the illness reports, residential services is working closely with campus partners, including the health center, facility management, custodian groups and the City of Evanston Department of Health to ensure students are taken care of, Luttig-Komrosky said.
Residential services is also providing free cleaning services to fraternity and sorority houses, Luttig-Komrosky said. Cleaning services will be available to clean all hard services such as the kitchen, bathrooms, doorknobs and entries, she said.
To support sick students who were under quarantine — Norovirus is highly contagious — residential services is delivering meals to students who are unable to participate in a dining program, including those who are not on a meal plan, Luttig-Komrosky said. Residential services tries to ensure students are able to get the nutrition they needed to recover, she said.
“We feel really good about our retainment efforts as well as our response,” she said. “When you’ve got a space of 4,500 students living in this kind of dense environment, we really try to have excellent hygiene practices already in place.”
Scott Tatro, one of the many students diagnosed with Norovirus, said University services was slow when it came to sending a cleaning service. The McCormick freshman, who is a resident of the Evans Scholarship House located in the sorority quad, said he experienced vomiting, diarrhea and numbness on April 11.
“It was mentally stressful because between the seven hour span of me getting sick and going to the hospital, I probably threw up 13 times,” he said. “Every time I threw up, I’d just be like, ‘Hopefully this is the last time, please finally stay down.’”
Though members of Evans Scholars requested cleaning services after other residents exhibited similar symptoms, residential services was not as responsive as they would have liked, Tatro said.
Tatro said it took about two days and several phone calls until cleaning services were sent to the Evans Scholars’ house. He said waiting for services was mentally taxing because people would go through their days wondering if they caught the disease. When residential services came, they cleaned the major common areas and the rooms of those who were affected by the virus, he said.
“We’re lucky that we have such a small house compared to all the other sorority houses that are around us because if we were a regular sorority (size) a lot more people could have gotten sick,” he said.