Stomach flu outbreak overwhelms North China university's health clinic

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/11 22:17:01

Photo: CFP

An outbreak of the nasty and sometime deadly norovirus, the leading cause of foodborne illness at a university in North China's Shanxi Province has overwhelmed the school's health services, forcing some ill students to be kept in a nearby men's dormitory. 

"Currently, the school's hospital is filled with infected students and a floor in a male students' dormitory has been sealed off. Others are attending classes as usual," several students at the university told the local newspaper the Red Star News. 

Since Wednesday, the Shanxi University of Finance and Economics in Taiyuan, capital city of Shanxi, has been collecting information about students who showed symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, fever. Local disease control authorities have confirmed that the students' symptoms were caused by norovirus infection. 

A staff member from the school's hospital confirmed with the media on Saturday that a number of students have been admitted but the staffer declined to say how many. 

On Thursday night, the university released a statement, saying that after treatment, the  health of sick students has improved, and some have recovered.

Testing by the city's health supervision department did not find a single source of contaminated food that might have caused the outbreak, and the school's drinking and tap water were not the culprit, the statement said. 

Despite the assurances some students expressed concerns about food security, the Red Star News reported. 

According to the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 outbreaks of norovirus have been reported nationwide since September, involving about 1,500 cases, mainly in canteens where many people become ill after eating contaminated or spoiled food. Patients often have gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea within 24 hours after eating.

The norovirus comes from a completely different family from the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic and is spread human-to-human even through the air exhaled by a person.  The norovirus can spread to humans through contact with an infected person's fecal matter. 

"Given the current season relatively high incidence of various intestinal diseases are not uncommon," Lin Minggui, director of department of infectious diseases with the Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital, told the Health Times, a newspaper under People's Daily.  

Lin pointed out that the infections mainly occurred in schools, exposing a weakness in China's public health system.

As the number one cause of acute viral gastroenteritis, the highly contagious and sometimes deadly norovirus infects about 685 million people worldwide annually and has increasingly emerged as a public health issue in China. In February 2019, Chinese authorities have greenlit a clinical trial for the world's first tetravalent vaccine against norovirus. The vaccine, after four years of development, can theoretically prevent 80 to 90 percent of norovirus infections, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 


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