Nearly 30 in Superblock hit by virus

The state health department is looking into cases of Norovirus reported in Frontier on Friday.

Eliana Schreiber

A virus with unknown source landed some University of Minnesota freshmen in the hospital Wednesday.
 
 
More than 30 cases of Norovirus — a common virus causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — were reported in Frontier Hall and later spread to other Superblock dorms Friday. Health officials are trying to determine the outbreak’s source, which could be vomit or fecal matter.
 
 
No new cases have been reported since Friday, said Boynton Health Service Public Health and Communications Director Dave Golden.
 
 
The virus is not uncommon, especially on college campuses, Golden said, pointing to a similar outbreak last week at Oregon State University.
 
 
The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating the source of the bug, Golden said.
 
 
“In a healthy population, it’s very low risk. But it’s pretty contagious unless you get in right away,” he said.
 
 
Biology freshman Nate Campbell started experiencing symptoms of the virus, like diarrhea and vomiting, early Wednesday morning.
 
 
Campbell was sent to the hospital around 4 a.m. Wednesday.
 
 
Shortly afterward, the rest of his friend group on the first floor of Frontier Hall began experiencing similar symptoms.
 
 
Around 4 p.m. Wednesday, physiology freshman Samantha Venables started getting hot flashes and stomach discomfort and later experienced the same symptoms as Campbell.
 
 
The virus causes severe dehydration and at some points, light-headedness, Venables said.
 
 
The virus spread quickly to most of the residents on the first floor in Frontier’s north wing, she said.
 
 
“[Of] all of my friends that live on first floor, basically all of them had gotten it,” Venables said.
 
 
MDH is interviewing students about their symptoms, said MDH spokesperson Doug Schultz.
 
 
“It takes just a small amount of fecal matter with the virus in it to infect a lot of people,” he said.
 
 
Because all of the reported cases are from Frontier Hall, MDH officials suspect that the illness isn’t foodborne, Schultz said.
 
 
The health department’s recommendations included a thorough cleaning of Frontier Hall bathrooms, hallways and common areas, as well as a full cleaning of the nearby dining halls in Centennial Hall and Pioneer Hall, Schultz said.
 
 
In cooperation with Housing and Residential Life and University Dining Services, the University responded to the issue and sent information to Frontier dwellers within hours of finding out about the outbreak, said Academic Health Center director of emergency response Jill DeBoer.
 
 
“We had some very smart students, [who] when they thought their symptoms were severe enough, sought health care,” DeBoer said.
 
 
MDH and the University are advising students in Superblock to thoroughly wash their hands before eating and after going to the bathroom, DeBoer said.
 
 
The proximity of health facilities helped the University respond quickly to the outbreak, she said.
 
 
“We were able to … about as rapidly as possible put in some response measures, and we’re hoping that … will help us to hopefully curb widespread transmissions,” DeBoer said.