Student Communications: 12/10/13

Dear Students,

University Health Services has noticed a recent increase in the number of students 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 conducted and may take a few days to confirm. The illness is not airborne and requires direct contact with an infected source or surface contaminated with the virus. Facilities Management is aware of the increase in student illnesses and is providing additional cleaning of surfaces to decrease the spread of this viral illness.

 Antibiotics are not effective for viral illness, 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 or call Health Services at 401-863-3953 to speak to a nurse for advice.

 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).

 Practice general prevention:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after you use the bathroom;
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before you eat;
  • Avoid direct contact with a sick person;
  • Do not share eating utensils, towels or face cloths with others;
  • If you become ill, please stay in your room and call Health Services at 401-863-3953 to speak to a nurse for advice.

 Additional information and instructions for preventing the spread of this illness are included below.


Edward Wheeler MD
Director, Brown University Health Services


How does infection occur? People can become infected by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the virus, or 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:

  1. 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.  I really want to stress that good hand washing is significantly better than alcohol-based hand sanitizers for this particular illness.
  2. 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.
  3.  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.
  4. 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. Items should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.