An outbreak of the gastrointestinal viral disease, norovirus, has sickened dozens of UNC-Chapel Hill students since late last week, according to a Orange County Health Department (OCHD) media release Mar. 4.
From Wednesday to Friday last week, some 85 UNC-Chapel Hill students sought medical care for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or fever. At least three stool samples tested by the state lab were positive for norovirus while negative for several other gastrointestinal pathogens.
UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Health Services issued their first warning of the potential outbreak last Thursday advising students on preventive measures to take to avoid the unpleasant illness.
As of Monday, five new cases of students with gastrointestinal illness were reported; however, it's not clear if the new cases are part of last weeks outbreak.
Health officials have not pinpointed a common source for the outbreak as an electronic survey sent to students failed to identify a common source of exposure.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis in people. It is not an influenza virus despite the use of the word "flu".
The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people additionally have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. In most people, the illness is self-limiting with symptoms lasting for about 1 or 2 days. In general, children experience more vomiting than adults do.
Norovirus is spread person to person particularly in crowded, closed places. Norovirus is typically spread through contaminated food and water, touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth and close contact with someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea.
The highly contagious norovirus is the second leading infectious cause of gastroenteritis-associated deaths accounting for 800 annually. Norovirus causes more than 20 million illnesses annually, and it is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States.
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