A gastronomical illness had been circulating the Georgetown University campus for several weeks. In an email to the community on Tuesday, Sept. 21, Dr. Ranit Mishori, Georgetown’s chief public health officer, disclosed approximately 12 students on the main campus had reported symptoms including stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea.
While less than 15 individuals were transported to emergency departments and no students required hospitalization last week, more than 90 students reported symptoms consistent with norovirus, a highly contagious illness that results in severe vomiting and diarrhea. By Monday, Sept. 27, 130 students, faculty and staff reported symptoms of norovirus and at least one student required in-patient hospitalization for rehydration.
At the time of the initial email, it was unknown if the cases were connected to one another and whether they were a result of the avid salmonella outbreak sweeping the nation. “It is prudent to assume they are related to an infectious process. Please be aware that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a national outbreak of Salmonella from an unknown source,” the email read. It suggested that students limit contact with others, keep well hydrated, and practice good hand hygiene.
In an updated email on Sept. 24, Mishori revealed new findings regarding the gastrointestinal illness impacting the community. With the help of the D.C. Department of Health, the Georgetown University Public Health team was able to determine a correlation with the norovirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus can be spread by already infected people, by touching contaminated surfaces and placing your fingers in your mouth, or by consuming contaminated food and beverages.
Aside from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, norovirus symptoms include stomach cramps, low-grade fevers, chills, headache, and fatigue and muscle aches. Most people with norovirus illness get better within one to three days, however, it is suggested to limit your exposure with other individuals for 48 hours following the end of your symptoms.
Despite assurances of safety and over 24 staff members consistently cleaning high-touch surfaces throughout campus, the consensus amongst many students remains that the illness must derive from the food served in the Leo O’Donovan Dining Hall.
Since the initial news broke, students have sought alternative sources for meals, such as cooking themselves and eating at restaurants. “I’m hesitant to eat at Leo’s and am currently spending so much out of pocket, despite my meal plan, to avoid getting sick,” Talia Fogelman (COL ‘22) wrote in a statement to the Voice.
“It’s hard to trust the safety of the food when this is so rampant. I know my suitemates are doing the same. The meal plan here is so expensive and to not feel comfortable using it is incredibly frustrating, not to mention a financial drain,” Fogelman added.
This is not the first time norovirus has been present on Georgetown’s campus. In 2008, the Voice and the Hoya reported that over 190 members of the student body contracted norovirus. Both publications noted that the administration informed the community within hours of the first hospitalization. As cases rose, students at the time were also quick to attribute the dining options to the breakout of the virus.
The university’s Sept. 24 email suggests limiting social gatherings in the near future, regardless of whether students have symptoms or not. The breakout of norovirus comes amidst breakthrough cases of COVID-19 on campus and an early flu season.
If you have symptoms, reach out to Student Health Services for support. In case of emergency medical situations, call (202) 687-4357 for emergency services. GERMS is currently operating Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. GERMS new hours are beginning Thursday Sept. 30 and will operate Thursdays-Mondays 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Please report any symptoms via the GU360 Daily Health Attestation.