Princeton epidemiology: norovirus edition

Princeton is in the midst of an outbreak of norovirus! What’s norovirus, you ask? Well, it looks like this:

Not helpful? Here’s the CDC fact sheet:

Noroviruses (genus Norovirus, family Caliciviridae) are a group of related, single-stranded RNA, non-enveloped viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis in humans. The most common symptoms of acute gastroenteritis are diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Norovirus is the official genus name for the group of viruses previously described as “Norwalk-like viruses” (NLV).

Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus is recognized as the leading cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States. Outbreaks can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings. Read more about it using the following links.

My shorter translation: “Got an epidemic of nasty stomach problems in an institutional setting (like a nursing home or university)? It’s probably norovirus. Wash your hands a lot.”

The all-campus email I received earlier today is included below. Think of this as a real-time, less-sexy version of the CDC’s MMWR. Emphasis added:

To: Princeton University community

Date: Feb. 6, 2012

From: University Health Services and Environmental Health and Safety

Re: Update: Campus Hygiene Advisory

In light of continuing cases of gastroenteritis on campus, University Health Services and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety want to remind faculty, staff and students about increased attentiveness to personal hygienic practices.

A few of the recent cases have tested positive for norovirus, which is a common virus that causes gastroenteritis.  While it is usually not serious and most people recover in a few days, gastroenteritis can cause periods of severe sickness and can be highly contagious. You can prevent the spread of illness by practicing good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, and limiting contact with others if sick.

Gastroenteritis includes symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. Please take the following steps if you are experiencing symptoms:

–Ill students should refrain from close contact with others and contact University Health Services at 609-258-3129 or visit McCosh Health Center on Washington Road. Ill employees are encouraged to stay home and contact their personal physicians for medical assistance.

–Wash your hands frequently and carefully with soap and warm water, and always after using the bathroom.

–Refrain from close contact with others until symptoms have subsided, or as advised by medical staff.

–Do not handle or prepare food for others while experiencing symptoms and for two-to-three days after symptoms subside.

–Increase your intake of fluids, such as tea, water, sports drinks and soup broth, to prevent dehydration.

–Avoid sharing towels, beverage bottles, food, and eating utensils and containers.

–Clean and disinfect soiled surfaces with bleach-based cleaning products. Students and others on campus who need assistance with cleaning and disinfecting soiled surfaces may call Building Services at 609-258-8000. Building Services also will be increasing disinfection of frequent touch points, such as doorknobs and restroom fixtures.

–Clean all soiled clothes and linen. Soiled linen should be washed and dried in the hottest temperature recommended by the linen manufacturer.

In the past week, University Health Services has seen more than the usual number of students experiencing symptoms of acute gastroenteritis. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services tested samples from a few of the cases, which were later found positive for norovirus. Because norovirus has been identified as the chief cause of gastroenteritis currently on campus, further testing is not planned at this time, but the University is urging community members to take steps to prevent the further spread of illness.

Noroviruses are the most common causes of gastroenteritis in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone can become infected with gastroenteritis and presence of the illness may sometimes increase during winter months. While most people get better in a few days, gastroenteritis can be serious in young children, the elderly and people with other health conditions. Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water is your best defense against most communicable disease.

I bolded a few passages because I think the very last sentence (wash your hands) is actually the most important single part of the message and is much clearer than encouraging someone to increase “attentiveness to personal hygienic practices.” But still a good message overall. At least one friend has come down with this and it sounds unpleasant…

06

02 2012

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