April 22, 2008

Campus Dining May Be Linked to Stomach Flu

Print More

Imagine spending a painfully long day in a claustrophobic bathroom stall while your friends are enjoying the April sunshine. Last week, a higher than average number of Cornell students had to go through the unfortunate experience of “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis.
According to Gannett Health Services, 55 students reported symptoms of gastroenteritis between April 13 and 19. These students suffered from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or a combination of the symptoms. Although the number is much higher than the average number of 20 to 25 cases per week, it is “not unusual,” according to Nianne VanFleet, Gannett’s associate director for nursing and clinical services.
“This is one of our blips,” said VanFleet while drawing a wave pattern in the air. She explained that Gannett typically monitors illness trends in a seven-day cycle, and last week’s number is within the normal range of “peaks and valleys.” Although this week will still be “a heavier week,” VanFleet believed that the numbers would eventually decrease by the end of the week.
Viral gastroenteritis, commonly known as the “stomach flu,” is the second most common illness in America. It is also causes “millions of cases of diarrhea each year,” according to the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Although patients usually recover within a couple of days, the large volume of liquid lost through vomiting and diarrhea may lead to dehydration.
According to Gannett’s website, the virus is mainly spread by contact with an infected person, or with objects contaminated with the virus. A primary way to prevent infection is by the frequent washing of hands.
Some students, however, believed that they fell victim to food poisoning. Lei Zhou ’09 is one of the 55 students who got ill last week. After suffering from “a really bad stomach ache,” nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, she sought help from the Cayuga Medical Center emergency room, where she was on an IV for six hours. Zhou believed that a pre-packaged Freshtake salad from Noyes was to blame for her illness. During her stay, she was told that she was not the only one.
[img_assist|nid=30114|title=Un-fresh take?|desc=Some students complained of stomach flu after eating salads and chicken in the dining halls. A few students felt sick after eating Freshtake salads.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“I was told that 15 people had been admitted within 24 hours because of a salad or chicken that came from Cornell,” said Zhou.
Zhou’s claim was not verified by any local health facility, including the Cayuga Medical Center, Gannett, and the Tompkins County Health Department.
John Turner, vice president of public relations at Cayuga Medical Center, said that he was unaware of such a situation.
VanFleet also stressed that Gannett’s data do not support Zhou’s claim.
“[Gannett’s data] are not an indicator of food poisoning [because] it is over a period of seven days,” she said.
“[These cases] don’t have a common source. What you look for in a food-borne illness is people eating the same food at the same venue within the same time frame,” she added.
Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett, could not verify Zhou’s claim either.
“We can’t confirm if there were any cases of food poisoning [because] there is no lab confirmation,” she said.
Dittman added that to her understanding, the Tompkins County Health Department will consult with the hospital to see if there is a possible concern.
According to Gerry Weller, interim director of Cornell Dining, the whole process of production and logs have been double-checked since he was made aware of the rumor yesterday morning.
“All protocols are intact. So far nothing is breached,” said Weller.