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Virus strikes students in dorms

Ryan Sydlik | Saturday, March 18, 2006

An outbreak of a gastroenteritis spread through several University residence halls last week, bringing the total number of infected students to 100 since the start of the spring semester, a Health Services official said. Thirty-one of those infected were hospitalized.

The virus – which affects the gastrointestinal tract and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low grade fever and dehydration – hit Alumni Hall particularly hard, said Patricia Brubaker, assistant director of the Student Health Center.

“It seems to always get worse during periods with students being more stressed with exams or being in more group contact,” Brubaker said. “Even when students are ill, they continue to go to class and try to make it.”

Dillon Hall rector Father Paul Doyle said several dorm residents experienced episodes of the illness early last week, including two resident assistants. But Brubaker said Dillon had fewer reported cases compared to other dorms like Alumni.

Brubaker could not provide specific information regarding the number of students infected in each respective residence hall.

In addition to gastroenteritis, Brubaker said there have been an equal number of reported cases of upper respiratory influenza. She said all students who were infected did not receive a flu shot.

Gastroenteritis hit campus last fall, as well, and was far more severe than the most recent outbreak. The illness usually hits once each year, Brubaker said, and is often misunderstood as a case of influenza.

“Stomach flu is a misnomer,” she said. “Influenza is an upper respiratory illness. This was not the flu.”

As a result, students who received flu shots earlier this year were not immune to contracting the illness. Those infected need to take proper precautions even after they start feeling better, she said.

“The best way to [keep] from getting and spreading the virus is to practice good hygiene,” Brubaker said. “You can be contagious up to two weeks after symptoms stop, so those infected should practice good hygiene to avoid infecting others.

Wash your hands, don’t share drinking glasses, don’t share spit or space.”

She also recommended avoiding proximity within three to four feet of an infected person. Brubaker said those experiencing symptoms of nausea and vomiting should “give [their] stomach rest.”

Two hours after the onset of symptoms, patients can start drinking either water or Gatorade and should avoid eating food for at least 12 hours, according to a Health Services guide regarding the virus.