Possible norovirus outbreak affects 200 students at Toronto college

Students began reporting symptoms on Thursday afternoon

TORONTO – More than 200 students at a Toronto college are victims of an outbreak that has so far sent about 50 people to hospital, Toronto Public Health said Sunday.

Dr. Michael Finkelstein, an associate medical officer of health at the agency, said the illness was first reported to public health on Friday, after 40 people at the north campus of Humber College were sent to hospital.

He noted that so far, only one person has been admitted to the hospital for treatment of dehydration. The rest were examined in the emergency room and then released.

Most of the affected students live in the North Campus residence at the college, he said, which houses about 1,000 students.

Finkelstein said he believes the vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and abdominal pain students are experiencing may be caused by norovirus, though he said he’s still waiting on laboratory results for confirmation.

Norovirus is highly contagious, he said, and it’s fast-acting.

“It causes severe symptoms quickly, but it also goes away very quickly.”

Andrew Leopold, a spokesman for the college, said on Friday that students began reporting symptoms around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, with more cases surfacing through the night. At that point, there were only about 77 reported cases.

“This is a unique situation,” he said. “We want to make sure our students are feeling good and receiving the care and attention they need.”

And while the setting of the outbreak may be somewhat unusual – Finkelstein said he’d never investigated an outbreak on a college campus before – it isn’t necessarily surprising.

“When you bring this number of people in a small space like a college residence, certainly that does increase the risk of a virus like norovirus spreading from person to person.”

“They’re using common bathrooms,” he added, which presents ample opportunity for germs to spread if sinks and toilets aren’t cleaned between uses.

A representative from the college said common areas are now being cleaned more often, and Finkelstein said students should be sure to properly clean their living spaces to prevent the disease from spreading further.

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