The University has seen 288 students reporting cases of the norovirus to University Health Services as of Thursday, according to University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua.
Dan Higgins, executive director of Communications at Rider University in nearby Lawrenceville, N.J., said that there have been at least 224 cases at the school since Feb. 8. Additionally, there were over 85 confirmed cases at George Washington University and approximately 60 at Middlebury College.
In all instances, schools started receiving reports of cases in January and early February. The outbreak lasted about two weeks at most schools before petering out.
Dr. Mark Peluso, the director of Middlebury’s student health center, noted that the number of cases they have seen has been fairly typical for seasonal norovirus.
Other universities confronted with gastroenteritis emphasized proper hand washing, reported severe symptoms to health officials and increased the cleaning of areas prone to the virus.
“Dining services assessed the possibility of a food-borne source, though none could be found, and they’ve increased cleaning of public serving utensils such as salad bar tongs during dining services,” Peluso said.
Peluso emphasized the importance of students heeding the advice of health officials. He explained how increased hand washing and students supporting friends who became ill ultimately reduced the severity of the outbreak.
The outbreak at Rider was more similar in scale to Princeton’s. Higgins said that this year was unique in that it was the first time cases with such symptoms had been verified by health officials to be norovirus. He explained that health officials ran tests to confirm the cause due primarily to the large number of cases that came in the first night.
Rider and other universities heard some calls to cancel sporting events and classes to limit the spread of the virus, but so far have not done so.
“After speaking with local, county and state health officials we decided, with their advice, that the best course of action was to remain open but to encourage anyone who was experiencing symptoms to get treatment and to stay home while recovering,” Higgins said.
Mbugua said that in response to the outbreak the University increased cleaning of bathroom facilities, met with food preparation staff both on campus and in the eating clubs and alerted the Princeton community with a Campus Advisory.
Wilson School professor Joseph Amon suggested that if unreported cases were included in the University’s measure of the outbreak, the number of cases at Princeton would be as much as five times higher.
In an informal poll taken by students in GHP 351: Epidemiology, Amon — who teaches the class and is a former epidemic intelligence officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — reported that there were at least five students with symptoms of norovirus who didn’t go to UHS for every one student who had.
“That is not particularly surprising, but it underscores how UHS statistics of gastroenteritis cases are probably significant underestimates of the extent of the outbreak among students,” Amon said.
Amon noted that, while the high number of cases at Princeton is notable, it is not alarming. With continued precautionary measures being taken, Amon said he does not expect the virus to spread for much longer.
No events have been cancelled at Princeton either, and Mbugua said that the University would liaise with the Princeton Regional Health Department before making such a decision.
The spread of gastroenteritis has declined significantly at Rider over the past week, with only five new cases being reported in the past three days.
“We’re pleased to note that cases have been declining, but we’re aware that a virus like this can stay around and take a few weeks to wane,” Higgins said.
Amon explained that, although norovirus can often linger in a community after its initial outbreak, it will ultimately become less of a risk once the weather becomes warmer and people spend less time indoors together.
“I don’t think it will be around for much longer,” Amon said.