115 students report norovirus symptoms at Pitt-Johnstown

President warns number could grow

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One hundred fifteen University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown students had reported symptoms consistent with norovirus as of Monday night, and that number could grow over the next few weeks, the university president said in a statement.

"While we hope that this trying situation ends very soon, we have been advised by health officials that we should be prepared to experience 'peaks and valleys,' over the coming days," President Jem Spectar stated in a news release. "The number of reported cases may rise in the next several days, despite our best efforts. In fact, one professional indicated that the situation could last as long as the entire month of April."

The first symptoms of the virus, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, fever and nausea and is spread through contact with infected people, ingesting contaminated food or drink or touching contaminated surfaces, were reported Friday by a handful of students.

That prompted the university to contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health, suspend food service, cancel several student events and issue a campuswide warning. Over the weekend, all academic buildings and dining areas were disinfected, with an emphasis on bathrooms, and previously opened or prepared food was tossed, among other measures. The campus, which has an enrollment of about 3,000, resumed normal operations Monday, though the administration is encouraging sick students to "go home if they have transportation or to self-isolate for a period of 72 hours."

Natalie Bombatch, a Pitt-Johnstown spokeswoman, said it remains unclear how the outbreak may have started. She said officials are awaiting results from test kits sent by the department of health.

"We are working closely with the university to investigate the situation, recommend prevention and control measures and provide education," wrote Wesley Culp, a health department spokesman, in an email.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists norovirus as the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis and food-borne disease outbreaks in the United States, causing 19 million to 21 million illnesses and 570 to 800 deaths a year.

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo.

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