About six students fell ill early Friday morning with similar symptoms, prompting the U of C Medical Center (UCMC) to call the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) as part of Emergency Room protocol.
The students went to the emergency room on Friday in “a small window of time,” according to Ana Campos, interim director of the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing. Because the students were all presenting symptoms consistent with food poisoning or a stomach virus, including vomiting, the UCMC alerted the CDPH to investigate.
Since then, all students have been treated and released from the emergency room. Campos also said that additional students presented symptoms, but did not need to go to the ER.
The cause and exact nature of the illnesses are undetermined as of yet, but the investigation is ongoing, according to the CDPH.
“The role of the Chicago Department of Public Health in this situation is to research any common cause when there is a small cluster of similar illnesses. In that process CDPH staff members have contacted some students who were ill and may continue to do so to determine if there are any similar factors that can help point them to the cause of these illnesses,” Campos wrote in an e-mail.
All three dining halls are labeled as category one (high risk) establishments with the CDPH, but that is due to the methods and presentation of food the dining halls have to use given their size and capacity, rather than a reflection of failure to pass health inspections, according to CDPH spokesperson Quenjana Adams.
“Restaurants are considered category one establishments if one or more of the following practices occur at the establishment: Cook and cooling down of food products, [holding] hot [food for] longer than 12 hours, extensive handling of raw ingredients, reheating of potentially hazardous food products, or cooking for service offsite,” Adams wrote in an e-mail.
For students that do suspect that they have food poisoning, hydration is the best treatment, Adams said. If the situation is extreme, “receiving hydration intravenously may be necessary for some individuals,” which could require going to the ER.
Second-year Hannah Wang, who felt sick around 3 a.m. Friday morning, said that she was told she could have food poisoning from Bartlett, but she had also eaten in Cathey Dining Commons that day. “I’m actually not sure if I had food poisoning or the stomach flu,” she said. “I heard a lot of Max and Pierce kids got sick though.”
On the U of C thread of the Web site Reddit, one student posted two days ago that about 12–16 people in his or her house were sick, of unknown causes, and asked if others were seeing similar trends. Students from Burton-Judson, Snell-Hitchcock, and Max responded that their own and other houses in their dorms seem to be “hit hard” by sickness as well, based on Resident Head announcements and comments they heard.
According to Campos, Housing will continue monitoring the status of students, with help from other departments.
“The CDPH will continue to work with Environmental Health and Safety, the Student Health and Counseling Services, and the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing to monitor the safety and health of the students. It is also possible that the cause of the sickness may never be determined,” Campos said.