March 3, 2005
By: Warren Wolfe

An outbreak of norovirus appears to be abating at two central Minnesota colleges, where more than 140 students and staff members have been afflicted in the past week, officials said Wednesday.

“I think we’re over the worst, but we’re still getting a few new cases reported today,” said Michael Hemmesch, spokesman for St. John’s University in Collegeville.

The gastrointestinal ailment — spread largely by people who did not wash their hands properly — was reported Wednesday at St. John’s and nearby College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph.

“It’s not a life-threatening disease, but it sure gives most people a bad day or two,” said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Health Department.

Norovirus outbreaks occur almost every year in Minnesota, usually in schools, restaurants or other gathering places. Half the cases are spread by improperly handled food.

In this outbreak, however, the virus appears to have been spread by contact with infected people, whose stool or vomit carries the virus. An outbreak at Eagan High School last year afflicted about 300 students and staff members.

No classes or activities were curtailed at the two campuses, with a combined enrollment and staff of about 4,900, Hemmesch said.

“The biggest change,” he said, “is that people are washing their hands — really, really washing their hands.”