Sophomore Connor Castilla was having a normal day until he started feeling “a bit weird.”
“After dinner, I felt a little odd, but nothing specific,” Castilla said. “After about 10 minutes of sitting around, I just got hit by a wave of awful stomach cramps. I felt really sick all of a sudden and had to run to the bathroom.”
Castilla, a business administration major and residential assistant for the second floor of New North Residential College, is one of dozens of students affected by gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, this past week. Castilla estimated that on his floor of 150 people, about 30 have developed symptoms over the past few days. The University has confirmed the diagnosis but has declined to comment on the exact number of people affected or whether the outbreak has spread to any other residence halls.
Castilla came down with the virus Wednesday night after showing no major symptoms the entire day before.
“I was just hoping it was in my head because of everything that was going around,” Castilla said.
Trevor Pohlman, a freshman majoring in business administration, lives on the second floor of College Hall within New North. He estimated that 21 people in his wing have been infected as of Wednesday night, but he believes the outbreak began several days earlier.
“Two nights ago, we were just talking in the halls, and there were people throwing up in the bathrooms,” Pohlman said. “We didn’t think anything of it.”
He became concerned, however, when his RA told him not to go in the bathroom the following morning.
“I heard five people in our bathroom on their hands and knees throwing up,” Pohlman said. “I was going to the bathroom in the morning to brush my teeth and my RA said, ‘I don’t think you want to go in there.’”
Pohlman is also aware of four other students who have been transported to the hospital due to illness. Concerned for his well-being, he chose to stay with a friend living at Webb Tower.
“I felt like a sitting duck just waiting to get [the disease],” he said.
According to a memo sent Thursday afternoon by the Engemann Student Health Center Administration, USC has experienced an increase in cases of “gastrointestinal viruses and rashes” in residence halls over the past few weeks. The memo reminded students that viruses are easily spread through person-to-person contact, touching of contaminated surfaces and consumption of contaminated foods and liquids, and urged them to wash their hands often and avoid contact with others who are infected.
The University administration has responded by adding more portable sanitizing solution stations throughout residential halls, and has asked USC Hospitality workers to replace and sanitize utensils regularly to combat the spread of the virus. Team members also have begun wearing gloves.
Some students, however, are taking additional precautions.
“I went and took a shower at the Lyon Center and basically have been living out of my backpack,” Pohlman said. “I’ve grabbed one change of clothes because I am not going into my room and into my hallway.”
Macey Ibalio, a freshman World Bachelor in Business student, also lives on the second floor of College Hall. Though she received the advice to wash her hands frequently and carry around hand sanitizer from Engemann, her peers and her RA, she, like Pohlman, is staying with a friend.
“I avoid areas near New North and EVK and try not to touch any surfaces like doorknobs or counters with my bare hands,” Ibalio wrote to the Daily Trojan. “I am temporarily staying with a friend at a different residence hall until the situation gets a bit better, but I’m not sure how long that will take.”
Despite the University’s efforts, Pohlman said that he is unsatisfied with the lack of communication from his residential community.
“There’s no communication from any of the RAs or administration on if it’s safe to live in my dorm,” Pohlman said. “I talked to DPS and talked to the chief deputy, and he said it’s safe to stay in my dorm. But they had cleaning crews in the bathroom and closed out the bathroom. If you go in there, you’re going to get it.”
Evan Link, an RA for the third floor of New North, has also advised his residents to take extra safety precautions.
“I’ve told them, ‘Wash your hands; don’t interact with sick people while they’re sick,’” Link said. “I made a stall specifically designated for vomiting just because I don’t want people to be using the same stall as someone who just vomited in there.”
In a memo sent to the student body on the Thursday afternoon, the University stated that it will deliver a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) to residence halls for those choosing not to go to the dining halls.
According to Engemann, gastroenteritis symptoms typically resolve themselves after 48 hours. The University advises students concerned about missing class to contact teachers directly. However, for additional issues, they should contact Student Affairs.
The Engemann Student Health Center is still investigating the main cause of the illness outbreak.