A number of campus residents are complaining of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, but says it does not feel like the typical flu. The cause of the widespread gastrointestinal sickness is currently debated by campus officials but remains unknown.
In interviews with more than a dozen students from the Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Nicolas Residence Halls, individuals have spoken of symptoms that persist for approximately 24 hours. The high concentration and the intensity of the illnesses have many students convinced the sickness is more than just the average stomach flu. Some attributed the illness to food poisoning from the De La Guerra and Ortega Dining Commons, while others believe it may be a virus.
Discrepancies among university officials as to the source of the students’ ailments are have further stumped individuals looking for answers.
Ali Aghayan, UCSB’s Environmental Health program manger, said he believes the problem can be traced back to the food prepared in the De La Guerra Dining Commons. The Environmental Health program is currently investigating food sanitation and handling policy at the on-campus eatery.
“The common denominator seems to be the DLG. We have also looked at the facility. We had a walk-through and focused on the sanitation, food handling and distribution practices,” Aghayan said.
According to Aghayan, phone calls began trickling in at the end of last week and have persisted until this Monday. The campus Environmental Health program is currently prompting infected students to visit Student Health.
“We got the first call on last Friday and I believe on Monday we got a few more reports. To the best of my knowledge, I believe we’re dealing with a handful of students,” Aghayan said. “We are referring students who go to the DLG for their meals and showing symptoms to go to the Student Health services.”
In addition to directing infected students to receive health care, Aghayan said the UCSB Environmental Health program is also collaborating with other groups to conclude the origin of the sickness.
“I’ve also communicated the incident to the Santa Barbara County Department of Environmental Health,” he said. “We are also waiting to see what Student Health has to say. They might do some lab analysis, get back to us and provide more information.”
Director of Student Health Elizabeth Downing said there is no trace of widespread food poisoning and instead implicates a virus as the impetus for the gastrointestinal complications.
“There is no evidence of a food poisoning epidemic over the last week that I can see as the director of Student Health,” Downing said. “It could very definitely be a virus.”
“We call this particular set of symptoms — of diarrhea and vomiting — gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and it can be caused by so many things,” she said. “If students are complaining of having diarrhea and vomiting that lasts no longer than 24 hours, it could be a number of viruses and they’re really contagious.”
The scene on campus however, leaves little room for skepticism.
“There was vomit all over the hall. [My roommate] spent the whole night clutching the toilet and said he puked six or so odd times,” Max Evoy-Mount, a first-year biochemistry major and Santa Cruz resident said.
Evoy-Mount said the unidentified illness has been a major cause for concern in the dorms.
“There was definitely a lot of worry of getting sick… I don’t think we talked about anything else for the next 24 hours,” he said. “The hall reeked like vomit for the next four or five days and there were people walking around with shirts around their faces.”
Students in Santa Rosa Hall also complained of similar symptoms.
Jesus Martinez, a first-year undeclared student and Santa Rosa resident, said he lost about 10 pounds due to incessant vomiting.
“It was pretty bad — I started throwing up on Friday evening. I was in the bathroom the whole night, every 30 minutes from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. I weighed myself Saturday afternoon when I woke up and I was 10 pounds lighter,” Martinez said.
Brian Kustera, a first-year undeclared student and San Nicolas resident, said his floor was heavily hit by the vomit inducing illness.
“On my floor, five people were throwing up. Some people were throwing up on the bathroom floor because they didn’t make it to the toilet,” Kustera said. “A week ago, my friend Jonathon had been going through the same thing and yesterday a [resident assistant] on the first floor of San Nicolas went to the hospital.”
While others believe they can trace the sickness to food at the dining commons, Kustera said there were individuals who ate different items or had not eaten on campus who were also affected.
“We all said we had pasta, so we thought it was just that, but I just talked to a girl who didn’t have pasta and was sick,” Kustera said. “Her parent also came up for Parents’ Weekend, didn’t eat at the dining commons at all and got sick at home.”
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