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Important Medical Information from Brown University Health Services

Email sent Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Dear Students,

University Health Services has noticed a recent increase in the number of students who are reporting gastrointestinal illness (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea). Student patients have reported an abrupt onset of symptoms and are generally recovering within a day or two. We have been in communication with the Rhode Island Department of Health to report these illnesses, to determine a possible cause, and to obtain and follow their guidance to minimize further spread.  

The illness is consistent with a viral illness, possibly norovirus. Specific testing is being done and may take a few days to confirm. Antibiotics are not effective, tests are usually not needed, and supportive treatment with hydration is usually all that is needed.
If you are experiencing symptoms, please visit the Health Services Website at the following URL or call Health Services at 401-863-3953 and speak to a nurse for advice.

Please call Health Services if you:

  • Have any symptoms of dehydration (very thirsty, lightheaded, dizzy, or confused)
  • Have diarrhea or vomiting that lasts longer than a few days
  • Are vomiting up blood, have bloody diarrhea, or severe stomach pain
  • Have not been able to drink anything for several hours 
  • Have not needed to urinate in the past 8 hours (during the day)

How does one get infected? People can become infected by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the virus, touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with the virus, and then placing their hand in their mouth. The illness is not airborne and requires direct contact with an infected source or surface contaminated with the virus.

Can viral gastroenteritis be prevented? — Yes. To lower the chance of getting or spreading the infection, you can:

Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be somewhat helpful in addition to hand washing, but they are not a substitute for washing thoroughly with soap and water.

Do not prepare food while infected: People who are infected with the virus should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness.

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an episode of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label or a solution made by adding 5–25 tablespoons of household bleach to 1 gallon of water.

Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus. They should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after you use the bathroom and before you eat and avoid direct (it is not spread through the air) contact with a sick person
  • It is best not to share eating utensils or towels and face clothes with others
  • please stay in your room while ill and wash your hands after you use the bathroom

Facilities Management Custodial Division is aware of the increase in student illnesses and are providing additional cleaning of surfaces to further prevent the spread of this viral illness.


Edward Wheeler MD

Director Brown University Health Services