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A Toronto Public Health official says one person was admitted to hospital and nearly 200 have reported becoming sick after an illness at a Humber College residence that began earlier this week.
Dr. Michael Finkelstein, an associate medical officer of health, said about 40 people initially visited emergency rooms after students reportedly began feeling ill at Humber College’s north campus on Thursday. Another 11 went to emergency rooms overnight and on Saturday morning.
Only one was admitted to hospital, but has since been released.
Public health officials have not determined a cause for the “cluster of symptoms” but Finkelstein said the sudden illness could be due to a virus.
“While investigations at this point are more consistent with a virus that is being transmitted from person to person, TPH will continue to investigate over the weekend,” he said.
More than 70 students, all of whom live at one residence on the north campus at Highway 27 and Finch Avenue West, initially fell ill on Thursday night. Thirty people were taken to hospital. The campus is in northwest Toronto near the Humber River.
“While we continue to get new reports of illness, there have been no further reports of emergency room visits,” he said.
Symptoms have include vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, nausea and dizziness, according to a statement released by Humber College on Friday night.
Finkelstein said Toronto Public Health investigated food services facilities at the residence on Friday and found no “significant” food safety problems.
Officials are now recommending “enhanced” cleaning throughout the campus, particularly in areas where food is prepared and served, as well as in washrooms and the Humber College residence affected by the outbreak.
He said officials are continuing to call people who went to emergency rooms and to collect samples from people who reported being ill.
People who are ill are encouraged to stay home, drink plenty of fluids to avoid being dehydrated, avoid preparing food for others, and wash their hands before preparing food and after using the bathroom.
Humber College said in a statement late Friday it has been in contact with students who reported gastrointestinal distress and it is “pleased to note” that several are recovering from the illness and are feeling better.
The college has stopped all self-service food options, such as salad bars, from outlets on campus. It is also cleaning its residences more frequently and distributing water to students.
Sarah Walker, 21, a third-year student in the University of Guelph-Humber early childhood studies, said she has not been affected by the illness but has tried to help others who have gotten sick. Originally from Welland, Ont., she is living at the residence affected by the outbreak.
Walker has been handing out plastic gloves and masks and making what she calls “easy to digest” soup.
“People are really stressed out. They are really anxious about it,” she said.
Some students who fell ill have gone home, but others, whose families live considerable distances away, have not been able to do so, she said. People have not wanted to visit the campus after the outbreak.
Walker, who is happy that she has not come down with the illness, said the residence at the north campus is made up of three buildings connected by a cafeteria and dining hall and the buildings have become quiet as students stay in their rooms to recover. The residence has single and shared rooms.
“It’s usually upbeat here, but it’s become a very isolated place,” she said. “My mother said it’s like we’re living inside a cruise ship. We’re hoping that this passes as soon as possible.”
Some students who have gotten sick have not eaten residence food, while others have gotten sick even though they are in single, as opposed to shared, rooms, she said.
“It’s on the verge of getting somewhat better. But all of the students are concerned. It’s been difficult for us.”
On Saturday, it said Humber nurses will be on hand in the residence to help students still experiencing gastrointestinal distress.
The college is encouraging all ill students, or anyone else who works at or visited the campus and was ill, to fill out an online public health survey at tph.to/gastrobusters.
Information that is gathered with help officials in their investigation.
The north campus has more than 19,000 students and a residence for 1,000 students.