Food Poisoning or the Flu? Claremont Investigates

Claremont University Consortium Student Health Services and the Los Angeles County Public Health Department are investigating a gastrointestinal illness that has been present on campus in recent weeks. The cause of the illness is unknown. On Monday evening, the student body was forwarded an email from Jennie Ho, the director of Student Health Services for the Claremont University Consortium. In the email—which is addressed to the Claremont Colleges Community—Ho notes that the investigation is ongoing and advises students to report all illnesses and take hygienic steps to stay healthy:

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department has been involved and continues their investigation of this situation which includes reviewing hospital and clinic records for diagnosis, treatment, and testing (i.e. stool specimens). We hope to have more news in the next 1-2 weeks, so in the meantime, continue to stay healthy and well by following proper hand hygiene and food handling measures.

This is the second email the student body has received from Ho about the investigation. The first, which was sent on Tuesday 9/18, noted that Student Health Services was aware of an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness on campus and was investigating its cause. In that email Ho also advised that students practice hygiene measures such as washing hands regularly and laundering clothes that had been in contact with vomit:

As many of you may have heard, there have been several students from The Claremont Colleges with gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain who have presented to our local emergency rooms this past weekend.  Please be advised that Student Health Services is aware and will do further investigation of this issue.

A day before that email was sent, last Monday, the Forum reported that students and Resident Assistants were reporting symptoms similar to those of food poisoning.  In the days that followed last week, a number of reports surfaced that made food poisoning seem like a possible cause.

A sign outside the Hub on Monday

The Forum interviewed twelve students between Monday 9/17 and Wednesday 9/19 who reported feeling ill on Saturday 9/15. All twelve independently reported eating a chicken sandwich from Collins for lunch on Friday 9/14.

However, since these interviews were conducted, a number of reports have surfaced that make food poisoning seem like an unlikely cause. For instance, the Forum spoke with William Knowles '13, Resident Assistant of Marks Hall, on Wednesday 9/19. Knowles reported taking care of a resident last Tuesday night with symptoms that resembled the flu. Knowles could not report what the student had eaten.

The timing of the Tuesday night Marks case, more than 72 hours after the Friday meal, makes food poisoning unlikely. On the contrary, the student's proximity to a sick student on Saturday suggests a viral disease.

The Forum has received many reports of students being sick with flu-like symptoms over the past week, including many from students who said they did not eat the common meal reported by some.

Ho's email notes that she hopes to be able to report more news about Student Health Service's investigation in the coming weeks.



Update 11/6/12:

On September 28, another email from Ho concerning the outbreak was forwarded to the student body. This email stated that the Los Angeles Public Health Department had determined that the disease on campus was the norovirus, a relatively common viral disease. Ho states: "There is no specific treatment for this virus except for supportive care like getting adequate rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and practicing proper hand hygiene and cleaning measures."