Toronto

Humber College not closing its doors as mystery illness makes 215 sick

Humber College officials say the school isn’t closing its doors as Toronto Public Health races to determine the cause of a mystery illness that swept through a residence, making approximately 215 people sick.

Public health agency says symptoms consistent with norovirus but still trying to pinpoint cause

Third-year student Sarah Walker managed to stay healthy so far despite living in residence. Many of her friends have not been so lucky. (CBC)

Humber College officials say the school isn't closing its doors as Toronto Public Health  races to determine the cause of a mystery illness that swept through a residence, making approximately 215 people sick.

"The campus will be open tomorrow and will be in full operations," the college's Dean of Students Jen McMillen told reporters Sunday ahead of the school week.

"We encourage all our students and faculty to make the best decisions for them in terms of their attendance to campus. But if there are students who are away from class because they have been unwell or they are isolating themselves after feeling better, we'll make sure they don't see any academic disadvantage because of that."

Toronto Public Health is still investigating the cause of the illness that had more than 70 students vomiting and reporting abdominal pain on Thursday afternoon at a residence in the city's northwest end.

Since then, the number of students who have reported becoming sick has climbed, with around 55 having visited emergency rooms. One person was admitted to hospital and has since been released.

Symptoms consistent with norovirus

The agency has sent a number of specimens to the lab and says it hopes to have further information early this coming week.

Dr. Michael Finkelstein, associate medical officer of health, said a virus such as norovirus may be responsible for the sudden outbreak of the illness, but that the agency has not officially ruled out food poisoning.

Toronto public health officials are trying to pinpoint why more 200 people at a campus residence at Humber College North have fallen ill. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"Based on our investigation so far, the signs and symptoms of illness that are being seen in people who have become ill are commonly associated with norovirus," he said.

Finkelstein said the agency inspected the school's cafeteria on both Friday and Saturday and observed no major violations, but added it is possible to come into contact with the virus through food contaminated by someone who has it.

'If one guy gets it, you're all going to get it'

As officials continue to investigate, the college is asking all students and staff who feel unwell to isolate themselves and stay away from campus for 48 hours after the point at which they feel better.

"It's a lot," McMillen said. "And I think the most significant part for us and what we're trying to focus on is that we have 200 students that really don't feel well and have had a really lousy couple of days."

The city's public health agency is advising the college on what's called "environmental cleaning," and says it will provide support on ways to prevent infection and control the spread of illness in common areas.

Notices have been put up at Humber College North to give advice to students who may have fallen ill. (Sarah Walker)

Unlike many of her friends, third-year student Sarah Walker managed to stay healthy so far, despite living in residence. She says she's glad to see that the school has been regularly sanitizing doorknobs — but is bracing for an impact anyway.

"We're basically isolated on a ship. If one guy gets it, you're all going to get it," she said.

"I haven't heard of anyone getting it a second time so that's something to look forward to, if I do get it."

With files from Devin Heroux, Muriel Draaisma