Officials work to contain spread of gastroenteritis outbreak at OSU


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and Benton County staff and health officials are working aggressively to contain an outbreak of what they believe is a norovirus infection on the Corvallis campus, which began March 30 and by today has infected 50-60 students, most of whom live in residence halls.

Although it is not yet confirmed by tests, the symptoms reported by most people who are ill are consistent with a norovirus outbreak, and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. This type of gastroenteritis, sometimes called “stomach flu,” is highly contagious and most common in winter or spring.

County health officials say they don’t believe there’s a specific food or location source for the infection, because otherwise the infection rate would be much higher. They say the most likely routes of infection are person-to-person or person-to-object transmission in shared living spaces, often through simple food utensils, cups, or even cell phones.

The outbreak, which is still comparatively small, has not required any changes in campus classes, programs, events or activities.

There are about 20 million cases of norovirus-caused acute gastroenteritis in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are often found in schools, nursing homes, hospitals or other places where many people reside in close quarters, such as cruise ships. At universities such as OSU, they are especially common after school breaks when students return from traveling.

University staff and officials are working to stop this outbreak by using aggressive cleaning programs in affected areas, and helping to inform and educate the campus community about what aspects of personal hygiene can help prevent infection.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is our top priority,” said Jenny Haubenreiser, director of OSU Student Health Services. “We continue to closely monitor the situation and are meeting regularly with county health officials. With everyone’s cooperation we hope this situation will be contained in the near future, while it is still small.”

OSU Student Health Services has developed a “gastroenteritis health alert” online that includes more detail and recommendations about what individuals can do to protect their health and reduce the spread of this outbreak, at http://bit.ly/1SO1WX3

A range of preventive measures are under way through the efforts of OSU custodial services and other staff. Deep cleaning is being done repeatedly on “touchpoints” such as doorknobs, elevator buttons and tables, in work at all 15 campus residence halls and three dining halls. Dining staff are implementing their training in food safety, handwashing and glove use. All students in OSU residence halls have been sent specific information about the outbreak, including symptoms of illness and hygiene recommendations.

Students are being advised to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, since hand sanitizers don’t work on viruses such as norovirus. They also should not clean up infected fluids themselves, and are being requested to isolate themselves for 72 hours after the last resolution of symptoms.  

Additional and more detailed information about norovirus infections is available at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/worldwide.html

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About Oregon State University: As one of only two universities in the nation designated as a land, sea, space and sun grant, Oregon State serves Oregon and the world by working on today’s most pressing issues. Our more than 31,000 students come from across the globe, and our programs operate in every Oregon county. Oregon State receives more research funding than all of the state’s comprehensive public universities combined. At our campuses in Corvallis and Bend, marine research center in Newport and award-winning Ecampus, we excel at shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders.