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Norovirus and Considerations for Thanksgiving

November 21, 2014

Dear students, parents, and families,

As you know, our Emory community has been dealing with an outbreak of Norovirus gastroenteritis since Wednesday, November 12.  To date, nearly 150 students have sought care for gastroenteritis at either Emory Student Health Services or the University Hospital Emergency Department.  We also know that other students have done self-care and not sought medical attention.  Many steps have been taken to reduce the spread of infection and additional steps are underway.  You can find these actions and recommendations delineated in previous emails here

The good news is that case numbers are declining.  Only one student with possible Norovirus was seen at Student Health on Thursday, November 20.  In addition, symptoms generally go away in 24-48 hours.  However, many students will soon be leaving campus for Thanksgiving break and staying with family and friends.  Here are some important things for students to know about Norovirus and to share with their families, particularly if they themselves have been ill:

You can still be contagious after you recover.
Although individuals with Norovirus infection are most contagious while ill and for 3 days after clinical symptoms resolve, individuals can continue to shed the virus in their stools for 1-3 weeks after recovery.  20% of infected individuals have no symptoms and look healthy, but are still shedding virus at the end of 2 weeks.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do NOT work against Norovirus.  Your best protection is frequent hand washing with soap and water.  It is important to wash your hands carefully after using the bathroom or before hand-sharing food with others.
Do not prepare food with others for a full week after being ill.
Because you may still be shedding the virus for a full week after being ill, you should not prepare food for others during that time.
Small children, the elderly and individuals with compromised immunity are most at risk from Norovirus.
If you have been ill with probable Norovirus, or you become ill while at home, you should not provide care to small children, the elderly or immune-compromised individuals for at least a full week after you recover.
Get the facts about Norovirus.
An excellent 2-page CDC fact sheet on Norovirus, including information about cleaning and disinfecting products, can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/downloads/keyfacts.pdf.

Over the Thanksgiving Break, Emory will continue to implement rigorous cleaning activities in residence halls and dining areas, including a focus on restroom facilities and common areas.  No single intervention will stop the spread of Norovirus in the Emory community.  However, we aim to control this very contagious and very resistant virus by using a combination of proven public health strategies.  As before, we continue to rely upon the counsel of our Emory experts in Infectious Diseases and Public Health and the recommendations of the DeKalb County Board of Health, which are based upon state and CDC guidelines.  We are fortunate to have such an abundance of expertise on our campus. 

We wish you a rejuvenating Thanksgiving Break and share your hope for a healthy conclusion to our Fall Semester.


Yours in health and prevention, 

Michael J. Huey, MD
Assistant Vice President and Executive Director
Emory University Student Health and Counseling Services
Associate Professor (MEST), Family and Preventive Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine