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CORRECTION: CalArts shuts down food services following illnesses

Corrects that Public Health officials only suspect norovirus; investigation is ongong

Posted: October 31, 2013 11:46 a.m.
Updated: October 31, 2013 4:56 p.m.

Sixteen CalArts students seized with violent flu-like symptoms this week are suspected of being victims of the norovirus, which is commonly associated with food poisoning, county public health officials said Thursday.

Medical dictionaries identify the norovirus as a common cause of food poisoning and acute gastroenteritis — or stomach flu — that can strike quickly with force and make a person very sick. It takes a couple of days to work its way through a person’s digestive system.

As a precaution, CalArts administrators shut down the school’s cafeteria and coffee shop Wednesday and notified the county public health department, said Margaret Crane, spokeswoman for California Institute of the Arts.

Public health officials were on campus Thursday “conducting extensive tests,” Crane said. “They’ve done medical examinations of some of those who have been affected.”

“The characteristic symptoms (of norovirus infection) are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping,” said a statement issued Thursday by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“Fever, if present, is low-grade. Dehydration is the main complication, especially in infants and the elderly, and (victims) may need medical attention.”

Health officials said they would continue to work with CalArts administrators to identify those believed infected with the virus, provide education on treatment and inspect any facilities on the campus. An investigation into the cause of the ailment that afflicted CalArts students was continuing, public health spokesman Allen Solomon said Friday.

The statement did not identify a source of the infection, and Bonnie Powell, spokeswoman for Bon Appetit — the school’s food service provider — said food may not have been the source.

The company is in the process of sterilizing all its food preparation equipment, she said. “They inspected us and did not tell us to change anything,” she said of the public health officials.

Asked about the college shutting down its food services, including the school’s cafeteria and coffee shop, Powell said: “The university acted with an abundance of caution, which we appreciate.”

CalArts administrators sent a notice to students on Wednesday explaining the outbreak and the shutdown of food services — a cafeteria and a coffee shop — on campus.

A copy of the memo obtained by The Signal reads:

“Over the course of the last 24 hours, we’ve received reports that some members of our community may have become ill due to food consumed on campus. The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff are always our top priority, and we want you to know we are taking this matter very seriously.

“We are working closely with our campus food service provider, Bon Appetit, as well as public health officials, but in an abundance of caution we have decided to close the CalArts Café and the Tatum Lounge for the day.

“While we know this is a considerable inconvenience for those on campus, this decision was made in the best interest of the entire CalArts community.”

“Our facilities team is currently exploring alternate food options that we can bring to campus for the day to service the community, and we will let you know those details shortly.

“Again, your health and welfare are our greatest concerns so please know that we are doing all we can to examine and rectify this matter. We will share more information with you throughout the day as we have it.”

Meanwhile, school administrators continued to meet with public health officials and “stakeholders” Thursday, Crane said.

The school has issued health advisories to students, brought in food trucks and ordered pizzas as a temporary food delivery alternative during the cafeteria shutdown.

“We just want everyone to get better,” Crane said.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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