Norovirus not to blame for mass-illness at George Mason University

WASHINGTON – Health officials say they are “fairly confident” the illness that sickened 40 summer camp kids at George Mason University was viral gastroenteritis, not norovirus, as some has speculated.

About half of the students attending a Congressional Awards program reported feeling ill on Wednesday night and by Thursday afternoon, 15 had gone to local hospitals for treatment. Early Thursday, officials reported the students were being tested for norovirus. Others speculated they had gotten food poisoning after eating at a D.C. restaurant.

Fairfax County’s medical epidemiologist Peter Troell says the illness was not food-borne, although what the students ate could be a contributing factor.

“We at this point feel this was primarily an episode of person-to person transmission,” he says.

The student’s symptoms and the method of transmission were similar to Norovirus, but Troell told reporters at a news conference that can’t be confirmed until lab results are obtained.

Thursday was the last day of the program at the university, so the emphasis for the students is recovering. Troell said that will mean staying home until 24 hours after the symptoms disappear. He also advised “good hand hygiene.”

“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands – and that means 20 seconds with warm water and soap,” he says.

Peter Liberty with George Mason University says the school is focusing on cleanup.

“Dealing with linens, dealing with scrub-down of rooms and facilities and you’ll be trying to make it as clean as possible.”

One of the students who became ill remains on campus.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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