Several dozen campus students report stomach flu-like symptoms, with 3 cases confirmed

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Several dozen UC Berkeley students have reported illnesses spreading with symptoms similar to those of norovirus, a viral gastrointestinal infection that is also commonly referred to as the “winter vomiting bug” or stomach flu.

There have been 29 individual reports at the University Health Services Tang Center of those with symptoms typical of norovirus, with three confirmed cases, according to Tang Center spokesperson Kim LaPean in an email.

In December, the California Department of Public Health, or CDPH, issued a warning that announced that the state was experiencing an increase of norovirus cases. CDPH confirmed 32 outbreaks of norovirus in the state since October, which likely resulted in hundreds of reported illnesses in California, the CDPH statement said. Reported symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain and fever, according to reports from campus students and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The norovirus infection is extremely contagious; half of foodborne infections come from norovirus, according to Sangwei Lu, a campus adjunct professor of public health. While most of those infected recover within 48 hours, Lu said, norovirus can survive for long periods of time in certain environments, such as cruise ships, where a sick passenger can contaminate the entire ship.

Campus junior Monsoon Pabrai brought attention to the illness on the UC Berkeley — Class of 2019 Facebook group Thursday. Pabrai posted in the group after becoming ill during the Bollywood Berkeley dance competition hosted by campus student group Indus on Feb. 20 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, where catering was served.

Pabrai said there were about 200 event participants who stayed in the hotel together. Everyone who came to compete — from schools including UCLA, UC Irvine and UC San Diego — became ill, Pabrai said.

“I got it at 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and by 11 p.m., I couldn’t eat anything,” Pabrai said.

Minolee Vora, president of Indus, said she also became ill after eating the food provided during the event. Vora said about 140 students, including dancers and club council members, became ill after eating the catered food.

She said that on their flights back home, students who participated in Bollywood Berkeley were vomiting — so much so that flight attendants ran out of bags. Dancers and council members eventually went to the hospital, where they were given IV fluids for hydration.

LaPean said in an email that the Berkeley Public Health Division is checking with local hospitals to determine whether there were any hospitalizations associated with this event but that the investigation is ongoing.

“To date, no common locations have been identified,” LaPean said in the email. “No one residential area, eating establishment or event ties them all together.”

No common locations of the norovirus outbreak have been identified, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, who added that people who are concerned should be extremely cautious.

Several recommendations for avoiding norovirus, presented by the city in conjunction with CDC guidelines, include not preparing food for others when ill, thoroughly disinfecting areas if exhibiting symptoms and staying home if ill.

Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @robertono_t.