Virus common on cruise ships listed as cause for Ursinus College sickness

    Montgomery County Health officials said norovirus was at the center of an outbreak that made more than 200 students fall ill last week at Ursinus College.

    Despite 10 new cases reported over the weekend, school officials said the worst is behind them with the brunt of contagious virus now over.

    When the first cases were reported, health inspectors said they sanitized the cafeteria and other common areas aggressively.

    The school’s director of health services Dr. Paul Doghramji said the highly contagious illness usually spreads person to person, but it can also spread from person to food to person.

    He’s advising students who’ve overcome symptoms to stay cautious.

    “Stay away from those who are sick, obviously,” Doghramji said. “Wash your hands thoroughly or sanitize as often as you can. Do not touch your face with anything when you’re going to be eating or drinking without making sure that you use a sanitizer.”

    Students on social media dubbed the outbreak the “ursinus plague,” and reported all manner of bodily fluid ejection.

    Assistant dean of students Missy Bryant said Ursinus officials and health inspectors acted fast.

    “And that’s why we were pro-active in voluntarily closing our dining center, and doing a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of the facilities,” Bryant said.

    Niroviruses are the leading cause of the stomach bug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 20 million people a year get sick from the infections. Most cases occur during cold months when people congregate indoors.

    Doghramji said more than 200 people is a lot for a small campus, but they were able to beat it back before it could affect the school’s population even more.

    “In my opinion, a little bit lower than what you could expect in another close-knit setting. Like a cruise ship, or another boarding school, or that sorta stuff. We acted rapidly,” he said.

    Some researchers have labeled norovirus “the Ferrari virus” for the speed at which it spreads. But it also comes to a speedy end. Most get over symptoms in 12-24 hours.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.