Over the past week and a half, the University of Oregon has taken extensive sanitary precautions in an effort to contain the Norovirus outbreak.
Norovirus is very contagious; difficult to terminate and causes stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. It’s rarely life threatening to healthy adults, however for the elderly and very young it can be fatal.
On Saturday May 7, the UO Health Center noticed a sudden rush of students with Norovirus-like symptoms. Since then, the Health Center has seen about 30 possible cases, 20 of which met clinical criteria for the virus.
UO Health Center medical director Richard Brunader has changed some Health Center procedures to better contain the illness.
Brunader explained that when the health center receives a patient with Norovirus, they are treated in one room rather than being transported to multiple locations within the building. He said that this helps to reduce the chances of the virus spreading to others in the building.
“What we’re trying to do with people that we think [have Norovirus] is get them in as fast as we can, opposed to them going to the lab, bring the lab to them, have the pharmacy come to them, check-out in the room,” Brunader said. “We’re trying to isolate them as best we can.”
Brunader says the best way to lower risk of infection is to start with sanitizing crowded areas.
“What we’re doing is trying to identify those students that we think are at risk and try to identify where they live and identify high traffic areas like the EMU, the Rec Center, places where we think that have high propensity of student contact and get those regularly disinfected,” Brunader said.
As for finding the source of the outbreak, Lane County Health and Human Services public information officer Jason Davis says that doing so is difficult due to the variety of information provided by patients.
“Every time you look at 30 people, and you try to get an exact account of where they were and when, it’s almost impossible[…] most of us have relatively bad short term memories,” Davis said.
Davis also emphasized how difficult it is to make a surface Norovirus-free.
“You could have a hard surface and unless it’s cleaned with 1,000 parts-per-million chlorine bleach, it’ll live there upwards of 60 to 90 days,” Davis said.
Davis stressed that the substance that kills the virus has very acidic properties which could “melt your phone”. He stated that for this reason, sanitation departments prefer to not use the cleaner until it is absolutely necessary.
The UO Recreation Center is one of the high traffic areas identified by Brunader and has altered its protocol since the outbreak.
Rec Center employee Natalia Riccardi explained the specific changes that were made.
“We’re told to wear gloves at all times, whether it’s in equipment issue or the weight room,” Riccardi said. “Weight room employees are told to clean during most of our shift, using the clean rags and sanitizer. We’re also told to not come in direct contact with people and if we do, to wash our hands.”
On Friday May 20, the Division of Student Life sent out an email that advised students to continue to take extra precautions when it comes to sanitization as students are still reporting Norovirus symptoms.
For more information on Norovirus, visit the Center for Disease Control’s website. If you are experiencing symptoms of Norovirus, go to the nearest medical center immediately.