Non-deadly norovirus affects 300 students at Miami University

Lauryn Rosinski

During the past week at Miami University in Ohio, Margot Flowers, a mathematics and statistics sophomore, saw something strange on her campus.

“I have noticed sick people, and people missing from classes,” Flowers said. She also witnessed several of her friends displaying similar symptoms of the same illness. 

As of Friday, many of Flowers’ ill friends and classmates are among the 300 students infected by the norovirus at Miami University this month.

According to the CDC, the norovirus can be spread from contact with an infected individual. Tamara Fox, a lecturer at Kent State’s College of Nursing, added that a person can also get infected through food, contaminated water or touching contaminated surfaces.

“Once ingested, the virus causes stomach and intestinal inflammation, which leads to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea,” Fox said. “This is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. The virus tends to be food borne.”

Kent State’s main campus is no stranger to the norovirus. Angela DeJulius, director of University Health Services, said almost 200 students at Kent State were infected by the norovirus in 2008.

“Eleven students went to the ER at Robinson overnight, so they called here and said, ‘You guys have a problem,’” DeJulius said.

She added that tests confirmed the norovirus was food borne and was found in the food at Chipotle. The restaurant was inspected and closed for 24 hours. The most likely source of the spread of the norovirus was a food handler. 

Carole Johnson, the assistant director of university news and communication at Miami University, said the norovirus is “highly contagious,” particularly on a college campus.

“With the students living in close proximity, there is an opportunity for viruses to spread,” Johnson said. “Travelling students might be bringing this back. This makes a university setting more prone to this type of virus.”

She added that the norovirus has also affected students at the University of Michigan and Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.

Tara Smith, an associate professor for the College of Public Health at Kent State, said the nature of the norovirus also makes it contagious.

“Norovirus is a virus that takes very few particles to cause an infection,” Smith said. “That is why it is so easy for it spread all over the place.”

Smith emphasized that, although the norovirus is infectious, it is “very rarely dangerous.” She also stated that most hospitalizations from the norovirus are due to the dehydrating effects it has on individuals.

Fox explained the importance of staying hydrated if infected with the norovirus.

“Dehydration is usually the main concern, due to the diarrhea from the viral infection,” Fox said. “The infected person would want to drink fluids to replace the lost water, and if there are any signs of dehydration, like muscle cramping, nausea, lightheadedness and heart palpitations, then the infected person should be hospitalized to replace the lost fluids.”

Johnson advises Miami students infected with the norovirus to keep hydrated and let the virus “run its course.”

“Because it is a virus, there is no antibiotic or medicine that would work with it,” Johnson said. “The people who do come down with the virus … it will last about two to three days.”

Because there is no effective treatment against the norovirus, Johnson feels it is important to teach students ways to prevent the disease from spreading. She said there is an emphasis on telling students to wash their hands.

“The biggest defense is to wash hands with water and soap,” Johnson said. “The hand sanitizers do not work against it (the virus).”

Fox said there are other ways to prevent against the norovirus.

“Good hand washing and general cleanliness is recommended,” Fox said. “In addition, wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and wash and cook seafood well. The virus can live up to 140 degrees. (Also) wash any contaminated laundry thoroughly.”

Although Kent State is not currently experiencing a spread of norovirus, DeJulius still feels it is important for students to take preventative measures.

“If you (students) do the right things to prevent norovirus, you’re also preventing against flu and strep and mono, which we (University Health Center) continuously see,” DeJulius said. “They’re not entirely preventable, but the more hand washing and not sharing drinks … the better.”

Johnson stated that Miami University is keeping its student body informed about the norovirus and preventative measures through a communication awareness campaign, which started when officials heard about the norovirus.

“Our housing and diners have put up handwashing signs. (Miami University is) allowing students to use bleach compounds,” Johnson said. “We have put out emails and information on the intranet. Basically, (we are) trying to get the word out that we have the norovirus … we are taking it very serious.”

Some students have noticed the information posted around campus.

“They (Miami University) have posted fliers in every public bathroom for prevention, and information about the symptoms and the virus itself,” said Rebecca Raig, a microbiology sophomore at Miami University.

However, Raig also said she is not overly concerned about the norovirus.

“I am not any more concerned than I have been the past flu seasons,” Raig said. “It is a large campus, and people are in close quarters. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the students get sick at some point.”

Flowers is also not worried about the norovirus.

“I’m not any more nervous about catching the norovirus than any other illness that circulates at this time of year,” she said.

Overall, Johnson wants people to stay calm and know that the university is making sure every precaution is made to stop the virus.

“This is definitely not a cause for panic. We are taking this serious,” she said. “We are just trying to get information out.”

Lauryn Rosinksi is the College of Nursing, Public Health and Podiatry reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].