Mysterious Illness Breaks Out at 5Cs

Dozens of students at the Claremont Colleges reported experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and high fever last weekend.

Due to the rapid spread and severity of the condition, some students have suggested food poisoning from one or more of the dining halls at the 5Cs as the origin of the epidemic. However, Bob Robinson, Vice President and Director of the Office of Facilities and Campus Services at Pomona College, said that there is still not enough evidence to identify the cause of the illness.

“No one knows where it came from. There’s no discernible pattern that we’ve been able to determine at this point,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of this so no one has to go through this again. We want to find out what caused it and try to eliminate it.”

Students received an e-mail Tuesday from Director of Student Health Jennie Ho, who wrote that a “gastrointestinal illness” epidemic was present on the campuses.

Dan Tzuang, Interim Associate Dean of Students for Student Support and Learning at Pomona, sent out an e-mail Monday reminding students to wash their hands on a regular basis and practice good hygiene, suggesting that the outbreak may have been just a stomach virus.

“Gastrointestinal viruses are frequently transmitted during this time of year unknowingly,” Tzuang wrote in the e-mail. “The best way to avoid symptoms of a possible GI bug (i.e. nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, etc.) is to decrease the chances that you get it passed on from someone else.” 

Elise Yoshida CM ’13, who was sick last weekend, said that she had “typical flu-like symptoms: heavy vomiting and sharp pains in my stomach.”

“The next morning my stomach felt better, but I had a fever and my head ached,” Yoshida said. “I spent most of the day in bed because that was all I could do.”

Administrators have contacted resident advisors and begun interviewing affected students to try to pin down the source of the illness, but their findings are thus far inconclusive.

Robinson said that if the virus were foodborne, he would have expected many more students to have fallen ill.

“When you think about it, here at Pomona anyway, we served over that weekend from that night 4,000 meals, and 30 students came down with an illness,” Robinson said. “If it was something in the food itself, it would seem to me from a logical perspective it would have been a lot more than 30 students.”

Robinson also stood by the practices and procedures of Pomona dining halls.

“Our facilities have been inspected by the Health Department 14 times in the last 16 months, and we have never received anything less than an A rating on sanitation,” he said. “Pomona College has been inspected by the Health Department four or five times more than CMC, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer or Scripps. I’m comfortable with our practices based on the results of those inspections.”

Pam Franco, General Manager of Collins Dining Hall Services, said that Claremont McKenna College was still in the information-gathering portion of its investigation.

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