UHS, Housing Respond To Suspected Norovirus Cases

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UW-Madison has acted promptly and aggressively to contain the spread of possible norovirus in Sellery Hall this week, where up to 45 students have reported falling ill with symptoms of gastroenteritis since Nov. 7.

University Health Services (UHS) and University Housing have coordinated messaging to residents about precautionary measures they should follow, and University Housing has also instituted additional custodial procedures throughout the dorm.

“Everything that should be done is being done,” says Sarah Van Orman, executive director of UHS. “We are hopeful there will not be a widespread outbreak on campus and are monitoring the cases very closely.”

Of the affected students, the vast majority is reporting improvement within 24-48 hours. Sellery Hall houses 1,100 students, and there are no plans to close the residence hall.

UHS believes the illness may be caused by norovirus, formerly Norwalk-like virus, and is easily transmitted from person to person via contaminated hands, surfaces or food. It can spread easily in shared living settings such as residence halls. Precautionary measures include washing hands thoroughly and frequently, and washing and disinfecting sink faucets, doorknobs and other surfaces that are touched by many hands.

Norovirus, common in the winter and is sometimes mistakenly called “stomach flu,” says Craig Roberts, epidemiologist for UHS. It is characterized by an acute gastrointestinal illness with vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms are usually very sudden in onset, may be severe and typically resolve within 24–48 hours. Treatment is generally limited to getting plenty of fluids and self-care.

“Some of the affected students have come to UHS,” says Van Orman, “but very few have needed medical care. For most people, the disease is very unpleasant, but it tends to resolve on its own.” Students who become dehydrated may need to receive intravenous fluids to help their recovery, she says.

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Self-care consists of oral rehydration with small, frequent amounts of clear liquids. Visit this site for more information.

Two students were seen at UHS on Nov. 7 with acute gastroenteritis. Their symptoms included vomiting and diarrhea, and they reported that several students on their floor had the same symptoms. At that time, UHS and University Housing coordinated a response that included a message to all students in the dorm regarding precautionary measures. University Housing instituted additional custodial procedures and made hand-sanitizing bottles and aerosol disinfectants available so residents could spray faucets and door handles.

Persons who have an acute illness with vomiting and/or diarrhea should not prepare or handle food for others, Roberts says.

“Sick students or staff who work in food service, health care or child care jobs must stay home from work until 48 hours after their symptoms have resolved,” he adds. “Anyone affected should limit contact with others during their illness.”

Good hand sanitation is absolutely essential. UHS recommends the following procedures for hand sanitation during illness or when the virus is suspected to be present:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Dry completely.
  • Apply an alcohol gel hand sanitizer and rub it all over both hands and wrists. Do this every time after you use the bathroom and before preparing food.

“Hand washing is a simple practice that helps everyone stay healthy,” says Roberts. “And it will protect equally well against other illnesses, like influenza.”

Students who have questions or who need medical care should call UHS at 265-5600.

For additional information, visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Norovirus fact sheet.

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