The Virginia Wesleyan community was ravaged by sudden and bitter illnesses over the past weeks. Beyond mere flu-like symptoms, students reported experiencing severe nausea, loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting.
Administration took notice of the problem, issuing an email to students on Tuesday, Feb. 4. The message, from the Office of Student Affairs, acknowledged not only the high frequency of sick community members, but also speculation that it may have been food-borne, given many health issues seemed centered around stomach pain and nausea.
The message includes ways to promote healthier habits like washing hands regularly, coughing into a sleeve, and staying properly hydrated. The email stated, “Our partners in the Sentara Health Center assure us that there have been no cases or confirmed reports of food poisoning.”
Vice President of Student Affairs, Keith Moore, echoed these ideas when asked about the possibility of some origin lying with dining services. “Some concerned community members called the Health department. [They] visited, did an assessment, …and asked what [the health suite] had been seeing as far as the nature of the illnesses. After this visit on Monday, Feb. 3, “everything was clear from the health department,” Moore said.
The issue, however, seemed to get worse as soon faculty and students alike were missing time from their duties due to illness. Both athletic practices and classes were cancelled or saw their schedules vastly rearranged to accommodate.
Moore worked closely with the Sentara Student Health Center site manager Katherine Bush in addressing the increase in afflicted persons. This Health Center, or Health Suite, receives an average of six visits a day, Moore said. During the week of Monday, Jan. 27, each respective weekday saw four, six, five, seven, and 4 visits.
Monday, Feb. 3 and Tuesday, Feb. 4 both saw only 6 visits.
This stands in line with many student reports, which detailed the worst of their illnesses occurring over the weekend of Feb. 1 and 2. Unfortunately, this likely indicates many students suffered through their illnesses without a visit.
Louis Wolverton, a senior on the cross-country team, described his experiences. Symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and a fever, hit Wolverton on Tuesday, Feb. 4. “I thought, ‘Why is going up stairs so hard?” I could tell from the fatigue that I was pretty sick.”
After concluding it was a stomach ‘bug’, Wolverton remained “sick for the next two days and didn’t even leave [his] room.” He never went to a doctor or on-campus health suite.
Another student, sophomore Caroline Tryfiates noted just how quickly she got sick on Saturday, Feb. 1. “I kept yacking. Between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. I threw up 10 times. I was nauseous until Monday morning.”
Tryfiates did not seek care from the health suite, adding, “It was closed.” By Tuesday, she felt fine. “[For] most people I talked to, it took about 12 hours to recover.”
Finally, senior Chris Fegan recalls waking up sick at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. Noting both nausea and vomiting, Fegan added, “I couldn’t eat or drink basically anything the entire day.”
As a commuter, Fegan stayed at home while sick. “I basically just rested for the entire day, partly in the bathroom, partly in my room. He went on, “I never actually went to the doctor or anything. [Though] I felt better the following day after some rest, but there were bouts of nausea through Monday.”
Moore and Bush confirmed many cases of gastroenteritis, in addition to symptoms of the flu, strep and common cold. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention details, “acute gastroenteritis (AGE) is a major cause of illness in the United States, with an estimated 179 million episodes annually” This page also notes how outbreaks can start from “direct person-to-person contact, contaminated environmental surfaces, and [other] unknown modes of transmission”.
In addition to the preventative measures sent out in the email, Moore emphasized getting flu shots. “The institution feels strongly that that’s important so we make it a point to bring them here and to partner with local pharmacies – this year it was Walgreens – to make it more available to everybody.”
As it stands, many students report having gotten over their illnesses in a matter of days, and that few cases have been brought forward since the week of Monday, Feb. 3. “It is my hope that the worst of what we had seen is past us,” Moore added, “and that people are on the mend.”