Gastrointestinal illness invades Winona State campus

Gastrointestinal illness invades Winona State campus

Erin Jones, Copy Editor

Winona State University and the Minnesota Department of Health have been working together to determine the cause of the recent illness outbreak that has happened on campus.

Findings of a recent campus-wide survey that was sent out via e-mail have determined that reported symptoms are consistent with norovirus, a gastrointestinal illness that is commonly mistaken for food poisoning.

According to an e-mail sent on Nov. 9 by Doug Schultz, who is an information officer for the Minnesota Department of Health, mostly students have reported having symptoms.

“To date, more than 200 people, mostly students, have reported GI symptoms consistent with norovirus, according to a survey sent out earlier [last] week,” Schultz stated in the e-mail.

Symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, as well as headaches, fever or chills and muscle aches.

Schultz’s e-mail also stated that though a large number of reports have been reported in the past two weeks, the first reported case of illness was Oct. 1.

“A low level of transmission appears to have been occurring on campus in October, but then was likely amplified through food from one or more central or large kitchen(s) around Nov. 1-3, when a sudden spike of illness occurred,” Schultz’s email stated.

Despite this early report, Senior Director of University Communications, Marketing and Media Relations, Andrea Northam said she was only recently informed of these illness reports.

“I was first made aware there were reports of illness on Nov. 2.,” Northam said in an e-mail. “The [Minnesota Department of Health] has the most up-to-date information on reported cases and the timeframe.”

Northam said though, that both the university and the Minnesota Department of Health have been working hard to investigate the cause of the illness further.

“Winona State University staff responded immediately to the reports of illness, reinforcing preventative measures and instituting additional measures, including extra disinfection across campus and employee screening in dining services,” Northam said. “The investigation of the cause of illness is being conducted by the [Minnesota Department of Health].”

The investigation being conducted has started within Winona State Dining Services, as norovirus can be transmitted through food.

“Food can play a role in norovirus transmission when a food worker works while ill or too soon after being ill or if a patron who is or has been ill handles food from a buffet line or salad bar,” the e-mail stated.

Senior Director of Dining Services at Winona State, John Sinniger was contacted for this article but never responded to questions sent by the Winonan reporter.

In addition to a continued investigation of the illness outbreak, Winona State and the Minnesota Department of Health has sent e-mail updates to students, faculty and staff and will continue to do so as more information comes forward.