Norovirus plagues campus

By Alissa Groeninger

“There’s really intense pain (and) you feel shaky,” said Patty Lawley, a sophomore in AHS. “You don’t want to get out of bed.”

After recent outbreaks of a flu-like virus at other Midwestern colleges, the University maintains that it is prepared in case of a spread.

Hope College in Holland, Mich., and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have experienced norovirus, one of the leading causes of stomach flu, outbreaks within the last month. Hope College was shut down from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11 because of the virus. More than 425 students, 13 percent of the student body, were affected.

At the University of Wisconsin about 130 students, most of them residents of the same residence hall or fraternity and sorority houses, were affected.

“It would be horrible (to experience in the hall). I don’t even want to think about it,” said Lawley.

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    Stephanie Kahn, sophomore at Hope, said it was hard to avoid sick people in the first two days.

    “Kids were getting sick during class and our cleaning crew was getting overwhelmed,” she said.

    As the outbreak continued many students went home.

    “Campus was deserted,” Kahn said. “Healthy people (left) too (because) they didn’t want to get (the virus).”

    Norovirus, which can be confused with influenza because the symptoms are similar to stomach flu, causes vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. On the other hand, influenza usually lasts for one week and its symptoms include a sore throat, high fever and cough.

    The norovirus cannot be treated with medicine and usually lasts between 24 and 48 hours. However, the actual virus, which affects the lining of the stomach, can stay in a victim’s system for up to a month, possibly leading to shared germs.

    “It’s a very persistent virus. The virus is slow to die,” said Mary Makarushka, communications manager for University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin. “The only good thing about this is it … goes away without medical attention.”

    Dr. David Lawrance, medical director at McKinley Health Center, said the University has never experienced a norovirus outbreak.

    “I hope we never have an outbreak here (but) it can happen,” he said. “(Colleges are) at a risk for it.”

    Lawrance said one or two universities have had outbreaks every year for the last 10 years. After the outbreaks at Wisconsin and Hope College, the staff at McKinley made sure they were prepared for the possibility of an outbreak.

    “It’s consistent with our planning all along,” Lawrance said.

    Norovirus is passed through contact with germs. To combat the possible spread, McKinley has always had extra hand sanitizer available. They also have IV fluids on hand because victims need to be rehydrated, and drinking a lot of water can upset the stomach.

    “If it were to happen on such a large scale (as at Hope) I don’t know if McKinley would be able to (help everyone) because (it seems to be) on the smaller side,” Lawley said.

    She said that if only a handful of people were affected, McKinley would have the ability to help them and prevent further spread.

    Lawrance said people should maintain good hygienic practices, like hand washing, to eliminate the spread of germs.

    Norovirus is always in the environment, but people become more susceptible during the winter. College students are more likely to contract the virus than other populations because of close proximity in housing and eating situations. When people are close to one another the virus spreads quickly. Some people are also more prone because of their genetic makeup.

    “Lots and lots of people could get sick that way,” Makarushka said. “The real danger is just continuing to spread it (across) the campus.”

    At Wisconsin, the University Health Services and the housing department worked together to prevent further spread of norovirus. Bleach was used to get rid of the germs in every area of the bathroom, including door knobs and other small areas, which were sanitized seven times a day.

    “That’s a tough situation to deal with. We behaved. to get it out of the dorm,” Makarushka said. “Our housekeeping staff did the most amazing job.”

    Kahn said Hope’s outbreak was bizarre because of the number of students affected.

    “It was just so surreal. It didn’t make sense that so many people were sick,” she said.

    The spread of norovirus can be prevented by following some simple guidelines:

    • Frequently wash your hands, especially after using the bathroom and changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
    • Anyone ill with diarrhea should not prepare food for other people. In particular, people with diarrhea should not work in restaurants, day care centers, or medical settings unless they are cleared to do so by their doctor or the local health department.
    • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.
    • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of diarrhea or vomiting by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
    • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of diarrhea or vomiting (use hot water and soap).
    • Flush or discard any vomit and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.