No More Noro: Norovirus outbreak is on the decline

Sources: Center for Disease Control; Dr. Hingham, Medical Director of Tufts University Health Service; Gary Hill, Director of Facilities at Tufts. Petrina Chan / The Tufts Daily

Approximately 72 students were infected with Norovirus last week, according to Margaret Higham, director of Tufts Health Service. She noted that the number of cases is decreasing and that she did not expect to hear of new cases emerging.

Higham explained that this approximation may be an underestimation because some students are treated through Tufts Athletics, and others do not seek assistance from Health Service at all throughout their illness.

Health Service sent out an email announcement on Feb. 11 notifying the student body of a Norovirus outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Norovirus can be transmitted through contaminated food, water or surfaces and through person-to-person or fecal matter. Symptoms of the virus include vomiting and diarrhea. 

A common source for the initial cases of the recent outbreak remains unknown, Higham said.

“There is no indication that it comes from one specific location,” she said. “And it’s interesting it’s happening at the same time that there’s a sharp increase in Norovirus cases in Boston area.”

She said that students who were diagnosed with the virus were told to stay in bed and given sick bags. She also said that there is medication that Health Service can give to some, but not all, affected individuals to ease the nausea. A large supply of sick bags had been distributed to students after the department had already ordered more bags and Tufts Emergency Medical Service (TEMS) received a number of bags as well, she said.

Health Service and TEMS are two of many departments that have been working to address the Norovirus outbreak, Higham said, explaining that an interdepartmental approach was coordinated to address the outbreak with an emergency plan created by the university earlier in the academic year. The university-wide Norovirus response plan involves departments such as Dining Service, the Tufts University Police Department, the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) and Athletics, among others, she said. 

Prevalence of the virus continues to decline as a result of these interdepartmental efforts across campus to limit student exposure to fecal matter and vomit.

According to Facilities Services’ Director Gary Hill, Facilities have been working with ResLife to ensure proper sanitation in common areas, dining areas and living spaces on campus in order to prevent further spread of the virus.

He said that Facilities Services has been working on frequent bathroom sanitation since the outbreak, noting that janitors have been cleaning bathrooms twice a day, rather than once a day per usual.

“The chemicals that we use [regularly] are ones that kill Norovirus,” Hills said.

Additionally, she noted that ResLife has designated restrooms, stalls and sinks specifically for the use of only infected students in order to contain the virus. Janitors then sanitize common surfaces, such as doorknobs, handles and other bathroom fixtures, and clean stalls twice a day. The janitors are given extra time to disinfect bathrooms and are paid for that extra time, he said. 

Higham added that Health Service’s current efforts involve prevention of the virus and education techniques surrounding it.

She added that in response to last week’s outbreak, the department has been working on preventing the spread by educating students about the virus. Education about the virus’ behavior, mode of transmission, symptoms and hygienic practices have helped lessen the number of new cases, she said.

“What we do for [infected individuals] here at Health Service is number one educate them,” Higham said. “[We tell them,] ‘this is what you have, and this is what you can expect.'”