Risk management decision: Norovirus outbreak closes Hampden-Sydney College

Norovirus kind of sucks, unless you are a virologist. The perfect human pathogen (a term coined by my NoroCORE colleague and all-around good guy, Aron Hall) is shed at a crazy high rate of virus particles per gram of vomit or feces and sticks around in the environment for a long time. So outbreaks tend to persist.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x300

Risk managers are faced with a  tough decision – shut down a place (school, amusement park, hotel, restaurant) for a deep clean/sanitize (with high concentrations of chlorine) or risk the chance that an outbreak stretches out over weeks. According to NBC 12, a Virginia college chose the former and will be closed until Wednesday as sanitation staff do their thing, while ill students stay isolated (and out of the classroom).

Hampden-Sydney College announced Sunday that it will remain closed through Wednesday, Feb. 4.

An update on the college’s website reads, “The Virginia Department of Health has determined that the illness on campus is norovirus. Norovirus spreads quickly person to person and causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a low grade fever. The virus is contracted by contact with infected persons or contaminated surfaces and items. The virus can remain vital for as long as two weeks.

Classes are suspended until Wednesday, February 4.

Athletic practices and competitions, extracurricular activities, and fraternity social events are suspended until Wednesday, February 4.

Administrative departments will resume normal hours on Tuesday, February 3.

It may have taken three days, but sophomore Tre Briggs just got over the norovirus. He is one of more than 300 students who fell ill after the outbreak on campus last week. “I just knew something was wrong and then that night I went to sleep and I was just vomiting all night,” Briggs said.

Managing behavior through messaging doesn’t always work, as we saw 7 years ago at Guelph:

University students’ hand hygiene practice during a gastrointestinal outbreak in residence: What they say they do and what they actually do
Journal of Environmental Health Sept. issue 72(2): 24-28
Brae V. Surgeoner, MS, Benjamin J. Chapman, PhD, and Douglas A. Powell, PhD

Published research on outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness has focused primarily on the results of epidemiological and clinical data collected postoutbreak; little research has been done on actual preventative practices during an outbreak. In this study, the authors observed student compliance with hand hygiene recommendations at the height of a suspected norovirus outbreak in a university residence in Ontario, Canada. Data on observed practices was compared to post-outbreak self-report surveys administered to students to examine their beliefs and perceptions about hand hygiene. Observed compliance with prescribed hand hygiene recommendations occurred 17.4% of the time. Despite knowledge of hand hygiene protocols and low compliance, 83.0% of students indicated that they practiced correct hand hygiene during the outbreak. To proactively prepare for future outbreaks, a current and thorough crisis communications and management strategy, targeted at a university student audience and supplemented with proper hand washing tools, should be enacted by residence administration.

This entry was posted in Norovirus and tagged , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.