A sudden outbreak of norovirus in the University community late January has slowed to normal levels after 2 confirmed cases and 11 suspected cases, according to Dr. Meredith Hayden, director of general medicine of the Department of Student Health and Wellness. As of Feb. 14, there are no new confirmed cases of norovirus.
On the morning of Jan. 29, laboratory analysis confirmed the first two cases of norovirus, according to Hayden and Dr. Christopher Holstege, executive director of Student Health. The same evening, Holstege sent a University-wide email informing the student population of an outbreak of norovirus.
Noroviruses are a group of various viruses that cause inflammation and pain in the stomach and intestines and bring on sudden symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, body aches, fever and headaches. Symptoms usually last one to three days, but a person can remain contagious for a month after symptoms fade, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“It is violent in how fast it erupts and can lead to marked dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities if prolonged or with some students who have coexisting health disorders,” said Holstege in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, outbreaks of this virus are common in universities, as shared living and eating spaces allow the virus to spread more easily.
University-wide norovirus outbreaks have occurred in the past. In 2014, 18 students infected with the virus were hospitalized within 24 hours, and many other students reported stomach discomfort.
During both the 2014 and 2019 outbreaks, Student Health coordinated with Housing and Residence Life, as well as the Thomas Jefferson Health District — whose range encompasses the University — to try and control the infection.
University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said Housing and Residence Life has provided additional cleaning in response to the outbreak.
The Thomas Jefferson Health District — the district under the Virginia Department of Health that includes Charlottesville and neighboring counties — was notified the same day the diagnosis of norovirus were confirmed. Kathryn Goodman, the public information officer for the Thomas Jefferson Health District, explained that after an agency notifies the health department of a potential outbreak, the health department and the agency are in daily communication about the status of the spread and measures for containment. This includes keeping in contact with infected persons and reviewing measures with the agency to prevent future outbreaks.
Laboratory testing for the potentially infected — a stool analysis that tests for the presence of various pathogens — is encouraged by the Department of Health, but Student Health does not commonly administer tests for norovirus after confirming an outbreak.
“Lab confirmation was only obtained in two patients,” Hayden said. “We do not typically test the stool to absolutely confirm the virus because it is very expensive and does not alter the management plan for the patient.”
There is no vaccine or any medication specifically for noroviruses. Since noroviruses are not bacteria, antibiotics are not an effective mode of treatment for the virus. Recommended treatment includes drinking copious amount of liquid to prevent being dehydrated and staying home from classes and other activities until a few days after all symptoms have disappeared.
“Norovirus is always a concern because it can spread so easily, which is why it's very important for people to take preventative measures,” said Goodman in an email statement.
Goodman, Hayden and Holstege all emphasized the importance of hand washing to prevent infection of norovirus rather than using hand sanitizer. This is because the scrubbing motion associated with hand washing can lift norovirus particles off of the skin, while hand sanitizer may not remove microbes and is not effective against norovirus. Other measures — including avoiding sick individuals and not sharing eating utensils — were outlined in Holstege’s mass email.
“We believe that prompt communication with students helped to control the spread of this illness among the campus community,” wrote Hayden in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.