Norovirus Update

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, February 5, 2015

FARMVILLE — Hampden-Sydney College resumed classes Wednesday, as planned, after shutting down last Thursday in response to a widespread Norovirus outbreak on campus that affected nearly one-third of its 1,050 students.

The number of confirmed cases at Longwood University, meanwhile, rose from five reported by mid-Tuesday afternoon to “roughly three dozen” later that day.

The number of confirmed cases has seemingly steadied at LU. The “overall count remains about 40 on campus,” the university’s Director of Communications & Media Relations, Matthew McWilliams, announced late Wednesday afternoon.

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Longwood acknowledges there are likely some other cases on and around campus that haven’t been reported but, McWilliams said, “we have a detailed reporting system in place and are confident we are tracking this effectively. Of course, as is always the case on campus in February, we continue to have students with flu-like and other illnesses. Not everyone who is sick has Norovirus.”

Longwood has “ramped up” cleaning efforts, focusing on common, high-usage areas and using stronger chemicals. Cleaning crews are on call and prepared to disinfect any area that may be affected. In addition, Clorox wipes have been available at the front desks of all residence halls since Friday, January 30, the university’s website states.

The Prince Edward County Public Schools are also seeing Norovirus symptoms.

School Superintendent Dr. K. David Smith told parents and guardians on Tuesday that fewer than 15 elementary school students had been absent or left school with Norovirus-like symptoms.

Dr. Smith wrote, in a newsletter to parents, that the school system is following guidelines received from the health department and is working with the custodial service provider to sanitize buildings at the end of each day.

No updated figures were presented during Wednesday afternoon’s school board meeting.

Health officials are not surprised that Norovirus cases, or symptoms, have shown up in the community.

It is quite possible, in fact, that the Norovirus that affected H-SC was brought on campus by a non-student.

Piedmont Health District Health Director Dr. Alexander P. Samuel said pockets of Norovirus would occur but, based on what he was seeing, he did not expect the illness to spread widely or wildly through the community.

“My sense is that it is not,” Dr. Samuel told The Herald this week. “But that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we come to it but it’s typically unlikely. It really doesn’t turn into, unlike the influenza, for example, which moves through a whole town, Norovirus, typically, is little pockets where people live in close proximity.”

The spread of Norovirus is “of greatest concern in settings where people live together. So the greatest risk is in dormitories, correctional facilities…where folks are together in confined spaces for a reasonable length of time…And eating communal meals.”

Schools would obviously fall into that category and one of the health department’s first actions last week was to notify local schools to inform them of the outbreak at H-SC and guide them in ways to minimize the risk of Norovirus cases within their own populations.

The two basic ways of catching Norovirus are through person-to-person contact and consuming food that’s been infected by a food service provider who has Norovirus.

The health department quickly notified all large food service facilities, such as Longwood University and area schools, last week so that precautions could be taken against Norovirus spreading through an infected food service worker.

“We are working hard with places that have large food service facilities,” Dr. Samuel said.

The health department continues to work with both Longwood and the school system to provide the best protection against the fast-moving gastrointestinal illness that affects 20 million Americans annually.

Longwood advised students late Wednesday that “there is no reason for well students to stay home” from classes.

Health Tips

To minimize the risk of catching Norovirus it is recommended washing your hands with soap and water.

“Norovirus is resistant to hand sanitizers,” Dr. Samuel said. “Soap and water, thoroughly wash for 20 seconds…several times over the course of the day.” Not just after using the bathroom and before meals.

Anyone with Norovirus symptoms should remain away from others for a minimum of 24 hours after their last episode of vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Symptomatic food handlers, Dr. Samual advises, should stay home for a minimum of 48 hours after vomiting or diarrhea.

Centra Statement

As The Herald was going to press Thursday, Centra spokesperson Diane M, Ludwig, emailed a reply to the newspaper’s Wednesday query: “Centra Southside Community Hospital has treated 51 patients from Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College and surrounding areas with suspected Norovirus. Patients presenting themselves to our Emergency Department are being treated with intravenous fluids, antiemetic’s and are being released to rest comfortably at home. Combating this contagious virus is a collaborative effort between the hospital, Virginia Department of Health and both schools. Centra Southside Community Hospital is reporting all cases to the Department of Health and will continue to monitor patient symptoms,” she wrote.