Norovirus Outbreak at UC Berkeley

by Erica Munson

Midterm season is a common time for students to be stressed out, having little capacity to focus on anything but studying. Ironically, by centering their attention solely upon their studies, students can forget to take care of their health and end up becoming too sick to even pick up a pencil. Students can put their health, and the health of others, at risk by ignoring proper hygiene, such as opting to use hand sanitizers as opposed to soap and water when washing hands, or by attending class when sick. Failure to take care of basic health care guidelines can result in a higher chance of viral and bacteria infection. In fact, at UC Berkeley, the Tang Center has confirmed three norovirus cases out of a possible twenty-nine reported.

Norovirus, also commonly known as the “winter vomiting bug,” can be spread via contaminated food or water, an infected person or contaminated surfaces. The virus results in acute gastroenteritis, which is the inflammation of the stomach, intestines, or both. Anyone can be infected multiple times, but the virus can be the most serious for young children or older adults. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), norovirus is responsible for 19-21 million illnesses, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths in the U.S. every year.

According to the Tang Center spokeswoman, Kim Lapean, the city of Berkeley Public Health Division is investigating the outbreak. Currently, there are not any ties between the outbreak and specific events, locations or restaurants. The university is recommending that sick students stay home and avoid contact with others as a way to curb the virus before it spreads further.

This highly contagious virus has caught its fair share of attention — publications such as the local CBS SF Bay Area and the LA Times have already expressed concern. A source tells us that the outbreak even caused the Stanford University Track and Field Coach to seriously consider withdrawing from last week’s meet at UC Berkeley in order to preserve his athletes’ health.

The CDC recommends proper hand-washing and general cleanliness as methods to avoid becoming infected with norovirus. In addition, it is important to keep surrounding areas thoroughly cleaned and to avoid contact with those who appear sick.