Norovirus conquering campuses, are DC and UOIT next?

Photo by Travis Fortnum

Ronnie Auston, a music business management student at Durham College, does all she can to prevent contracting norovirus. Health professionals say proper hand-washing should be enough to keep you safe.

With student residences identified as ground zero for norovirus outbreaks at both Humber and Conestoga, Durham College (DC) and UOIT are taking extra precautions to ensure students remain healthy.

Marc Athanas, residence life manager, says the team has engaged a protocol from their pandemic plan to keep students safe.

“We’ve increased our disinfection of the building,” he says. “All staff at all hours are constantly doing rounds to disinfect door handles and common places people touch that can become contaminated and spread viruses.”

Conestoga College is the latest to report a presence of the virus.

A representative says students and staff at the school’s Cambridge campus say some students and staff have reported symptoms consistent with the winter bug.

Liam Aggett is studying massage therapy at Humber, where headlines were made when more than 200 students recently became ill.

Aggett lives in residence at the school and has seen first-hand the effect the virus has had on students. He says he noticed students getting sick on the night of Jan. 20.

“The first thing I noticed was a lot of people on my floor were throwing up,” he says. “Later, people where leaving on stretchers and the number of people going to the hospital kept growing and growing.”

Aggett says, in an effort to avoid getting sick, he tried to carry on normally while taking precautions like increased handwashing and attempting to avoid those infected.

Despite his best efforts, Aggett ended up contracting the virus himself.

“When I woke up on Monday I knew something wasn’t right but I thought it was going to pass,” he says. “When I was about to leave for class it got really bad then a little later I started throwing up.”

While there have not been any reports of a norovirus infection at DC and UOIT this year, Athanas says the pandemic plan includes steps on how it will be handled.

“If we do receive a report,” he says. “We do have a protocol to respond. Where we’re responding with the SERT (Special Emergency Response Team) to make sure the student is assessed. If the student requires medical assistance, helping get that student to that assistance and determining if the student needs to be quarantined, sent home, etcetera.”

While a campus-wide outbreak like this is uncommon, norovirus itself is not. Toronto Public Health says often it is mistaken for the flu or food poisoning.

Leslie Graham, a professor in the collaborative nursing program at Durham College (DC) and UOIT, says the nature of the virus allows it to flourish in a campus environment.

“Norovirus can spread very quickly in closed in areas such as universities, colleges,” says Graham, “it takes only a small number of viral particles from vomit or stool or contaminated food to make a person sick.”

Graham says symptoms for norovirus can develop up to two days after coming in contact with particles. She says it can spread by eating or drinking contaminated things, touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth or having contact with someone who is ill.

Graham says preventing an outbreak here on the DC, UOIT campus is as easy as being thorough with cleaning practices, as well as sick students taking the initiative to stay home for at least two days while symptoms pass.

In a recent update, Humber representative Sara Laux says that 75 per cent of the students who were ill are feeling better.

Laux also says that the number of sick students has not increased considerably recently.

Should you catch the bug, feeling better is mostly a matter of time.

“The treatment of norovirus focuses on preventing dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea,” Graham says. “Call the physician if you or a person you are caring for is becoming dehydrated. To prevent it, drink sports drinks without caffeine or alcohol, or oral rehydration fluids available over the counter at most drugstores.”

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Travis Fortnum is a second-year journalism student. He has a love for politics and is passionate about covering campus news, community events, and sports. Aside from the Chronicle, his stories have been featured in the Oshawa This Week, Brooklin Town Crier, Whitby Snap'd and on