Norovirus confirmed cause of mass illness of Humber students.

 Ruth Escarlan

Toronto Public Health has received laboratory results that confirm Norovirus was responsible for making more than 200 Humber students sick and sending 40 or more to the emergency room.

Humber College has been following Norovirus protocols since Friday and Jen McMillen, Dean of Students, said, “we’re certainly grateful and will continue to receive ongoing support from Toronto Public Health, and we really hope to move forward from this.”

The night of the outbreak

On the night of Jan. 19, 77 students in the North campus residence became ill with abdominal pain and vomiting, and dozens of those students were taken to hospital. By last Monday morning, the number of affected soared to over 200.

Norovirus is short lived, but easily contracted from infected surfaces or people, according to experts. Symptoms include an onset of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhea.

Jamie Lambert, a Humber Kinesiology student, said she was feeling horrible on that Thursday night and waited in line for an ambulance with 12 other students who were feeling ill.

A doctor at the hospital said the cause was food poisoning.

“But I know a lot of people were thinking some sort of virus [instead],” said Lambert.

Students who are ill have been advised to stay away from school or in their dorms until they have gone 48 hours symptom free. Students who are worried were given permission to miss classes without academic penalty, and some students have been seen wearing masks in the hallways.

As of last Monday, public health officials were optimistic that the outbreak was waning. In the previous 24 hours, only two students became ill and had to go to the hospital.

“The number of reported illnesses appears to be slowing down – which is a good sign,” said Dr. Michael Finkelstein, Associate Medical Officer of Health, at the time.

Representatives from Toronto Public Health were on campus since Jan. 20 to provide Humber with recommendations on how to respond to the outbreak. By Monday, there were five food inspectors on site to review food processes and to inspect food vendors.

McMillen said the college had increased the number of cleaning staff not only in the student residence, but all around campus.

“We’ve been delivering water, increasing hand sanitation and asking people to really wash their hands and trying to support students who aren’t feeling well,” said McMillen.

“We’re using very specific cleaning products that are recommended and approved by Toronto Public Health. We’re focusing on high touch areas, door knobs, washrooms, elevator buttons, all of those sorts of things in order to try and prevent any further spread.”

Increasing tensions, a Facebook video went viral last weekend – with over 275,000 views – allegedly showing a cockroach crawling out of a food container in the student cafeteria.

McMillen said Humber is aware of the video and brought it to the attention of Toronto Public Health.

Finkelstein said the video was passed on to the Food Safety Inspection Program. Toronto Public Health completed a full inspection of the North campus on Monday and concluded there were no significant violations of food safety protocols.

With files from Caitlyn Patrick, Kylie Vaillancourt and Elliot Williams

 

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