News Release: Illness at George Mason University

June 21, 2012

Illness Investigation
Fairfax County Health Department

At approximately 8 a.m. on June 21, the Fairfax County Health Department was notified by personnel from an urgent care center that a number of teens and young adults were arriving with similar symptoms of illness. These individuals were all members of the same summer camp group staying on the George Mason University Campus. Fairfax City Fire Department reported that it transported 15 people this morning from the campus to an urgent care facility and a nearby hospital.

The Health Department routinely investigates reports of increased illness in the community. In this instance, the Health Department’s initial findings indicate that the ill people likely contracted viral gastroenteritis that has spread from person to person. Specimens from ill people were collected for laboratory testing in an attempt to more definitively determine the cause of illness. At this time, the Health Department continues to investigate the possibility of food borne transmission; however, early evidence suggests that the illness has spread through person to person contact.

George Mason University is working with state and local officials to implement appropriate infection control measures on campus that include the thorough cleaning of the dormitories where the ill individuals were staying. Only one ill individual remains on campus at this time.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis include vomiting and diarrhea. While the symptoms can be unpleasant, viral gastroenteritis is usually not serious for otherwise healthy people and the vast majority of people recover in one to two days. This type of illness often spreads when sick people vomit in public or directly infect others due to poor hand hygiene. The illness can also spread through contact with infected surfaces. Viral gastroenteritis is common in our community and the Health Department regularly investigates clusters of this type of illness.

To help limit the spread of viral gastroenteritis in the community, the Health Department recommends:

  • Wash Hands: It is important to wash hands often with soap and warm water, especially after using the bathroom, before preparing food, before eating, and after any episodes of vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Stay Home When Sick: To avoid spreading disease, anyone who is sick with vomiting and diarrhea should stay at home and away from others until symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Adults and children should not go to work, school, school functions, sporting or extracurricular activities, or leave the home except to seek medical care. Children who are sent home from school with vomiting or diarrhea should not return to school the following day—even if they are feeling better—since they may still spread the disease.
  • Clean and Disinfect Contaminated Surfaces and Clothing: After episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based household cleaner. Immediately wash and machine dry clothing or linens that are contaminated with vomit or fecal matter.

    More information about viral gastroenteritis is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.


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