Norovirus attacks campus

Virginia Kettles

More than 100 Washington and Lee students were sent to the Student Health Center early last week, following a norovirus outbreak on campus, according to Director of Student Health and Counseling Services Dr. Jane Horton.

Elora Fucigna, ‘19, was one of these students stuck in the Health Center in the days following the initial outbreak.

“At first, I just felt really weird and nauseous. It just hit me all of a sudden. Like a really, really tired feeling,” Fucigna said. “I thought I was just getting a weird reaction to food, but it just kept getting worse.”

But Fucigna was not the only one facing the side effects.

“When I got out of the Health Center, it was frightening to see how many people had the virus,” Fucigna said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, norovirus is a contagious stomach virus that causes the stomach, intestines, or both, to become inflamed. Transmitted through contaminated hands and other surfaces that lead to subsequent ingestion, norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States, and one that is very dangerous in itself, the website says.

Upon contraction, the patient usually develops nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and sometimes a fever, all of which can last for an upward of three days. The virus thrives in crowded environments, such as cruise ships, close living quarters, and of course, college campuses.

Dr. Jane Horton said she thinks the Dining Hall is to blame for spreading the virus so quickly.

“It’s easily spread in that kind of environment. We worry about people touching the serving utensils in the dining room, because it’s a self-serve situation,” Horton said. “So one person may touch it and contaminate a serving spoon, and then the next person comes along, touches it and gets the virus on their hands.”

But for some students the outbreak was not enough to stop them from eating at the Dining Hall.

“I went to D-Hall on Friday, and there were maybe three tables of people in the whole area when it should have been rush-hour. That’s how scared people were,” Foifon Teawdatwan, ‘19, said. “As for me, I avoided the tables of uncooked foods because I thought they were more likely to be contaminated.”

As far as staying safe from the norovirus, Dr. Horton’s advice is simple.

“Wash your hands—especially before touching or handling food, before eating or touching your mouth or face, after touching any surfaces like sink knobs, faucets, or doorknobs,” Horton said. “‘[You can] use hand sanitizer, but frequent hand washing is much more effective.”