<p>Brown University Health Services has noticed a recent increase in the number of students who are reporting gastrointestinal illness. Dr. Edward Wheeler, director of University Health Services, sent the following letter by e-mail to all students Wednesday, March 20, 2013.<br /><strong>Update:</strong> Later in the day, the Rhode Island Department of Health confirmed norovirus as the source of the illness. Sixty-seven Brown students had sought treatment at University Health Services or local emergency rooms.</p>

Dear Students:

University Health Services has noticed a recent increase in the number of students who are 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 done and may take a few days to confirm. Antibiotics are not effective, 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 or call Health Services at 401-863-3953 and speak to a nurse for advice. Please 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 needed to urinate in the past 8 hours (during the day).

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

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.

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.

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.

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. They should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after you use the bathroom and before you eat and avoid direct contact with a sick person (the virus is not spread through the air).
  • It is best not to share eating utensils or towels and face clothes with others
  • please stay in your room while ill and wash your hands after you use the bathroom


Facilities Management Custodial Division is aware of the increase in student illnesses and is providing additional cleaning of surfaces to further prevent the spread of this viral illness.


Edward Wheeler, M.D.
Director, Brown University Health Services