Oglethorpe struck by stomach illness; officials say it wasn’t the food

<p>Oglethorpe University</p>
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<p>Oglethorpe University</p>

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

A health scare at Oglethorpe University prompted an inspection of the dining hall, but the cause of illness affecting four dozen people was likely something besides the food, officials say.

Two students went to the hospital, raising concerns that they’d gotten food poisoning, but the illness likely resulted from a stomach bug, said Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, the district health director for DeKalb County.

“It probably was a person-to-person spread and not food borne,” she said.

About a month ago, a few students complained of stomach illness, including two who sought medical attention, fueling a petition for improvements of how university workers handle the food.

Oglethorpe worked with the DeKalb County Health Department to investigate, and the campus food service company ordered its own inspection, which the university shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The inspection found a few minor problems, such as an employee who touched her face and modest “pink build-up” in the ice machine, caused by condensation.

The university concluded that norovirus, a nasty gut bug, was the likely culprit, said Renee Vary, an Oglethorpe spokeswoman.

Ford said we’ll never know for sure, but that’s a good guess.

The incidence of norovirus infection peaks from December to March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the way this illness spread — with 48 people reporting symptoms over five days, 17 of them with the relevant symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea or both — was inconsistent with a food event, which would typically occur on one day, Ford said.

DeKalb recommended deep cleaning the bathrooms in student housing while students are away on spring break this week. The students share suites, and, well, they aren’t that far removed from high school.

“It’s kind of up to the students to clean,” said Ford, who has a son in college and is familiar with the young adult approach to hygiene. “So enough said.”

Norovirus has been making an appearance in Georgia.

More than 120 were sickened after 13 students at the Milledgeville campus of Georgia College reported suffering gastrointestinal illness, according to the website of The Telegraph, in Macon. In February, local health officials attributed it to norovirus, the newspaper reported.

And in September, an elementary school in Rockdale County was shuttered due to illness, with health officials suspecting norovirus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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