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Norovirus could be the cause of Humber College illness: health officials

Last Updated Jan 23, 2017 at 5:57 am EDT

Humber College is investigating an illness that left nearly 200 students complaining of vomiting and abdominal pain since Thursday.

On Sunday, Toronto Public Health Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Michael Finkelstein told 680 NEWS the cause of the illness could be norovirus.

“The signs and symptoms of the people we’ve talked to certainly suggest it could be due to norovirus,” he said.

A video posted to Facebook by a Humber College student shows a cockroach crawling out of food.

cockroach humber

“After ordering my food from the burrito place located at Humber’s food court, I saw a cockroach crawling out of the food so I took my phone and recorded it,” reads the post, which has been viewed more than 140,000 times since Friday.

A spokesperson with the college says they are aware of the video being circulated and have also spoken to Toronto Public Health about it.

“Toronto public health has been here over the weekend. They found no violations in respect to food safety, that’s where we stand,” said Andrew Leopold.

“Right now we’re focusing on every student that’s been impacted by the incident, we’re working to make sure that they’re receiving the proper care, and then we’ll focus on anything else.”

CityNews has learned that the location where the cockroach was spotted had no previous violations, at least for the last two years.

Leopold said Saturday most of the students who were ill lived at a residence at the institution’s North Campus.

Toronto Public Health said in a statement at least 11 students spent Friday night in the emergency room.

“This cluster of illness may be due to something that is being passed from person to person or a food source,” TPH representative Michael Finkelstein said in the statement. “Once certain viruses are in environments such as student residences where individuals live close together, preventing the spread of easily transmitted seasonal viruses like norovirus becomes challenging.”

“This is a unique situation,” said Leopold. “We want to make sure our students are feeling good and receiving the care and attention they need.”

Leopold said students began reporting symptoms around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, with more cases surfacing through the night.

Student Michelle Vukobrat said she was violently ill after eating breakfast Thursday morning.

“I had no breaks,” she said. “I was constantly, constantly sick.

“I would feel maybe better just after throwing up for maybe a minute and then I would try to [lie] down, sleep it off for little bit. But I was up within the next minute, throwing up again.”

The students who became ill had eaten burgers, pasta, bacon and egg sandwiches. They all live in residence and ate at the residence café.

The hospital that treated the students has indicated the source of the illness is “undetermined,” he said.

“We’re continuing to investigate the source of the illness,” Leopold said.

Food inspection reports for the café were not readily available.

Leopold added that Humber is encouraging all its students to ensure they engage in good hygiene practices, particularly in high-density spaces like a campus residence.

The college’s North Campus residence houses about 1,000 students. It is temporarily closed to visitors, although the café was still serving food.

Michelle’s mother Kathy Vukobrat said she wanted a refund for her daughter’s meal plan.

“I want my money back,” she said.

“It’s not really about the money. It’s like, what has to happen? Does a kid need to die first before we look at this?

“Food poisoning is a pretty serious thing … I have sent a letter to Humber and said I have lost faith — I do not trust them to act in the best interest of my child, and I don’t want her eating there.”