Norovirus continues to affect students

Stephen Vitabile

The gastrointestinal norovirus, or “norwalk-like virus,” outbreak that recently spread throughout campus over the past two weeks is still affecting members of the student body.

The norovirus, which is characterized by flu-like symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue and low-grade fever, usually affects those who have it for one to two days and is highly contagious.

The Student Health Center has been steadily seeing patients after the first wave of 25 patients on Jan. 23, according to Dr. Mary McGonigle, director of the Student Health Center. By Jan. 25, over 100 students had been diagnosed with the virus. Of those students, 15 were sent to the hospital needing IVs for dehydration.

At that time, the health center got in touch with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Knowing that the virus could be easily spread, the Department of Health interviewed the first few patients to be diagnosed in an attempt to track the source of the virus.

No common thread was found among students. Notably, the question of the virus coming from food was ruled out because all the patients had eaten in different eateries. This was vital to determining that it was in fact the norovirus, because it was initially thought to be food poisoning, McGonigle said.

McGonigle estimates that about 300 students have been diagnosed with the norovirus by either calling in with tell-tale symptoms or visiting the health center.

“The norovirus is seen on campus every winter,” McGonigle said. “It is seen a lot in schools and colleges because it is transferred by contact. We didn’t approximate anything unusual when we first saw [the virus]. It happens about every year.”

In fact, the virus is colloquially referred to as the “cruise-ship virus” because it is easily spread in places with close, community-like living, like a cruise ship or residence hall.After the initial outbreak between Jan. 23-25, the number of calls and office visits to the health center involving the virus tapered off, McGonigle said. However, the health center saw another 100 patients with the virus from Jan. 28-29.

It wasn’t until that Monday that the results of the culture tests performed by the health center came back confirming that it was indeed a norovirus on campus.

McGonigle said that this last week’s second wave of patients was the virus at its peak. Realizing this, she sent out an e-mail to University students and employees, officially alerting them of the virus. The e-mail included the warnings and precautions, informing them how to avoid the virus. Last Friday was the slowest day for the health center, but there was still a steady stream of patients calling in and going for help, McGonigle said.

The health center has been dealing with a constant stream of incoming patients for over two weeks now. Many of the nurses have been working as much as 13 hours per day to take care of the students, McGonigle said.

“The nurses really care about [the patients],” McGonigle said.

“The nurses and practitioners there were very nice and clearly care about their patients,” said Siobhan D’Angelo, a sophomore political science major, who contracted the virus and had to visit the health center. “However, I feel as though they only give those cases where they think the patient could potentially end up in the hospital their attention. In my case, my pulse and blood pressure were indicating severe dehydration, which is the only reason they kept me overnight.”

A similar outbreak in February of 1993 caused over 175 students to become ill. The 1993 virus inflicted students with the same symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea lasting for the same duration as the current virus.

Only a week before the outbreak on campus a similar outbreak hit Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. The virus was found to affect members of fraternities and sororities at the University and somehow spread to a local retirement home in Corvallis.