Norovirus outbreak sweeps through USC campus dorms

- An outbreak of a gastrointestinal virus swept through USC residence halls in recent weeks, but university officials said stepped-up sanitation efforts and staff training has led to a reduction in the number of cases.

Fewer than 100 students have come down with norovirus in the seven-day period since the illness was first reported, according to the university.

Norovirus is the most common form of gastrointestinal virus, a university official said. The university has advised students not to return to class until 24 hours after symptoms subside.

In an advisory sent to students Oct. 27, officials at the Engemann Student Health Center reported an "increased number'' of cases among students living in residence halls.

In an update sent Monday, health center officials said there had been a "marked decrease'' in the illness. Officials noted that students appeared to be adhering to guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, and the university undertook "an intensified cleaning of our residence halls and dining venues and staff training on additional precautionary measures.''

"We are working closely with the county health department on all of these precautionary measures,'' according to the advisory.

Health officials noted that the illness can easily spread from person to person, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. The symptoms generally subside within 48 hours.

The advisory urged students to take precautionary steps such as washing hands often, especially after using the restroom; rinsing fruits and vegetables, especially lettuce; using a chlorine bleach solution to clean potentially infected surfaces such as computer keyboards or phones; washing and drying affected clothing; and avoiding contact or sharing food with anyone who is infected.

In response to the outbreak, the university has:

  • increased the number of hand sanitizers;
  • increased the custodial staff;
  • wiped down all common surfaces -- water fountains, paper towel dispensers, door handles -- at least once every hour;
  • installed additional paper towel dispensers and soap dispensers;
  • requested students first use a hand sanitizer before scanning their finger at the security stations;
  • frequently wiped down fingerprint stations;
  • provided with cleaning wipes to ill residence hall residents; and
  • offered delivery of a BRAT meal  (banana, rice, apple sauce, toast) to the residence halls of ill students.

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