Norovirus Plagues Boulder

Nov 152004
Authors: Jill Krisl

The highly contagious Norovirus has been identified as the cause of recent outbreaks of stomach-flu like symptoms seen at the University of Colorado-Boulder, according to Boulder County Health and the Wardenburg Health Center at CU.

Infection was first seen at Wardenburg on Oct. 26, and new cases are being diagnosed everyday.

"Our biggest peak was over Nov. 3, 4 and 5," Wardenburg Director Robert Cranny said. "We were seeing an average of eight new cases per day."

The most common symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some also become lethargic and experience fever, chills and headaches. These symptoms usually last 24 to 60 hours, according to the Center for Disease Control Web site

The virus is transmitted primarily through fecal-oral route; either person-to-person spread or fecally contaminated food and water, according to

Because the outbreaks have been concentrated in residence halls, food-poisoning was originally to blame. After identifying the Norovirus, Cranny said Boulder County Health also believes it likely came from an off-campus food source by a student.

"The virus is not life-threatening," Cranny said. "But the biggest factor is becoming dehydrated."

Getting plenty of fluids while recovering is extremely important to avoid complications from dehydration, said Dr. Jane Higgins of Hartshorn Health Service. She said in serious cases someone may require an I.V. to combat the dehydration.

The prevalence of the infection at CU has been due to the virus' ease in transmission.

"Although not unique to this virus, it can and does survive on surfaces," Higgins said.

She said if a surface becomes contaminated, then someone touches it, infection occurs when they the touch their face and mouth.

Cranny also said the viral spores can become airborne.

"If you breathe it in from the air, it becomes ingested in your saliva, which you then swallow and potentially become infected," Cranny said.

Despite this virulence the likelihood of a visiting CSU student becoming infected at CU and bringing the infection back to the CSU campus is not likely, Cranny said.

"These students feel so poorly they are not doing anything socially," Cranny said.

Even after recovery, an individual remains contagious for an additional three days to two weeks, according to

Proper hygiene is being encouraged to prevent spread of the virus.

Cranny sent out an e-memo to the CU campus describing the virus and the precautions students need to be taking.

"Education and the things you can do to prevent it are very important right now," said Cranny.

Precautions include washing produce well, not sharing food with someone who was sick, cleaning a contaminated area immediately and washing your hands after using the restroom and before and after you eat. Also anyone infected should not work in food service for 72 hours after symptoms have passed, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The residence halls are providing extra cleaning supplies and the housekeeping staff are doing extra cleaning during the week and weekend, Cranny said.

He also said students living off-campus need to be taking the same precautions.

"The problem is students at home aren't as vigilant about washing their hands," Higgins said.

Anna-liisa Are, a junior CU student, said she had two friends who lived off-campus that became infected.

"I am really nervous about this," Are said. "One of my friends was even in the hospital."

Despite the warnings, Are said she is not being overly cautious.

"I do think about the precautions," she said. "I probably should be taking more steps."

Antibiotics are ineffective since infection is due to a virus, and no other medication exists for treatment. Higgins said getting plenty of fluids and rest are needed for recovery.




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