Ursinus College senior Brian Neff recently traveled to King of Prussia, a half-hour drive from the school in Montgomery County. He bought a banana smoothie and started to head back. Then it hit him.
“On the ride home on [Route] 422, I had to pull over. I threw up a few times,” Neff said. “But some have had it worse than I did.”
Since Friday morning, college officials said seven more students have reported symptoms in connection with a mysterious sickness that has afflicted 192 across campus.
Early indicators point to a stomach bug that has raced across the close-knit campus of 1,650, according to health officials.
Classes are set to resume Monday following a campuswide shutdown while county health workers scrambled to find an answer, said Missy Bryant, assistant dean of students. The school’s dining hall has also reopened after health inspectors found no major issues.
“The symptoms have included severe vomiting, severe stomach pain, some diarrhea, so we’re continuing to work with the health department to determine what the cause might be,” Bryant said.
“At this point, we still don’t know what the cause is. It seems like the two likely avenues are either person-to-person contact illness, or that it’s food-borne,” she said.
Sanitation stands have been set up across campus; investigators are examining the cafeteria and other common areas; and most students have gone home for the weekend.
“You look at the parking lot today, and there’s tons of open spaces where normally there aren’t many at all,” said Neff, who is on the lacrosse team. He said at least 10 of his teammates have fallen ill.
Most students, including Neff, have been springing back after 12 or 24 hours of misery.
“You know, I’d say 12-hours, I felt like I was back to normal after I just laid in bed for a while,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been helping to coordinate the response, Bryant said.
“All of our efforts are focused on sanitizing and cleaning our common areas on campus, the academic buildings, classrooms, highly trafficked common areas and resident halls, as well as common-room bathrooms,” she said.
Students discussed the outbreak on Twitter under the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #ursinusplague. On the feed, students compared the sickness to a zombie apocalypse and several are pictured wearing surgical masks.
At least one area pharmacy ran out of surgical masks, though officials said the benefit of donning a mask may be more of a placebo effect than anything else.
“The surgical masks are not helpful necessarily, but certainty if students want to purchase them if it makes them to feel more safe, then we encourage them to do that,” Bryant said.
A final determination on the culprit behind the outbreak is expected in about a week.