Dunster, Mather Students Suffer Stomach Illness

Dining halls close after outbreak sends at least 16 students to UHS

The Dunster and Mather House dining halls closed for breakfast and lunch yesterday following an outbreak of a stomach illness that hospitalized at least 16 students who had eaten in the two dining halls.

Students began arriving at University Health Services (UHS) Tuesday evening suffering from diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps, said UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59.

The large number of patients eventually filled Stillman Infirmary, Rosenthal said. He said it was likely that more than the 16 students documented had suffered from gastroenteritis.

“There are probably some who felt that way on a minor basis and didn’t come in,” Rosenthal said.

As of yesterday evening, all but three students had been discharged.

The dining halls were shut down to be cleaned and inspected by the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Services (EHS) and Cambridge health inspectors. They re-opened for dinner last night with extra precautions.

“We are serving the food tonight, instead of students serving themselves, so that if there are students carrying the virus they aren’t contaminating the utensils,” said Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson Alexandra McNitt.

Health inspectors conducted surveys of the sick students to determine what they had eaten in the last 72 hours and took samples of food from the dining halls to test for bacteria or viruses that could have caused the outbreak.

EHS director Joseph Griffin said it is still too early to tell the cause of Tuesday’s outbreak.

He sent 11 samples of dining hall food to the Massachusetts State Laboratories for analysis and said he expected to receive test results within two days.

According to Griffin, the time range during which students fell ill—between Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening—will complicate the investigation.

“About 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, I just woke up [sick],” said Forrester H. Cole ’02, a Dunster House resident. Cole said he thought his Monday night dinner of pork chops and rice could be responsible.

Dunster House roommates Christine D. Tran ’04 and Kate D. Nyhan ’04 said they each became sick early yesterday morning, although they had not eaten any of the same food Monday or Tuesday.

“I ate the pork on Monday, but [Nyhan] didn’t and our other roommate had it but didn’t get sick,” Tran said. “We didn’t eat anything in common so it couldn’t have been any one dish that was undercooked.”

Rosenthal said the length of time between the first and last students who became sick could mean the students had contracted a virus.

But he said it is generally difficult to determine a source in outbreaks of gastroentiritis. The cause of a stomach illness that sent 15 students in Cabot House to the hospital last March was never identified.

“It’s too early to tell at this point,” said EHS director Joseph Griffin. “The test results will be the best indicator.”

—Staff writer Joseph P. Flood can be reached at flood@fas.harvard.edu.