A few years ago fellow graduate student Brae Surgeoner had a fun idea to collect behavior data in the midst of an outbreak. The University of Guelph was dealing with a bunch of illnesses that seemed to be linked to residence halls and the symptoms looked like norovirus. The local health folks worked with the universities housing group and placed alcohol-based sanitizer at the entrance to one of the cafeterias (which was thought to be ground zero). Looking back, the hand sanitizer step wasn’t the greatest public health intervention (not with commercially available products), but what we wanted to know was whether students heeded the warnings and advice.
By using ethnography, we found that only 17 per cent of the observed students followed the hand hygiene recommendations, but self-reported surveys of the same population showed that 83 per cent of students said that they had been following the guidance (we published the results in the Journal of Environmental Health, abstract below).
Health officials often put up posters and signs and rely on self-reporting to determine whether interventions are effective. People may say they are washing their hands more, but our study showed that the behavior and reports don’t always match up.
Faced with a bunch of students ill with norovirus, the decision-makers running the show at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, according to Global Dispatch, made a good disease management call by canceling all events and closing the cafeteria to limit virus transfer.
Several University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown students have reported an illness–with the symptoms of fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and general abdominal discomfort, to campus Health Services during the past 48 hours prompting the university to cancel all in-door social events for the weekend. In addition, the decision has been made to suspend cafeteria services at all dining facilities on campus. Instead, prepackaged meals will be available in the Student Union for pick-up.
In an effort to respond to students who feel that they need medical attention, the Office of Health and Counseling will be open on both Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
University Students’ Hand Hygiene Practice During a Gastrointestinal Outbreak in Residence: What They Say They DO and What They Actually Do
Journal of Environmental Health, 72(2):24-28
Brae V. Surgeoner, M.S., Benjamin J. Chapman, Ph.D., Douglas A. Powell, Ph.D.
Published research on outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness has focused primarily on the results of epidemiological and clinical data collected postoutbreak; little research has been done on actual preventative practices during an outbreak. In this study, the authors observed student compliance with hand hygiene recommendations at the height of a suspected norovirus outbreak in a university residence in Ontario, Canada. Data on observed practices was compared to postoutbreak self-report surveys administered to students to examine their beliefs and perceptions about hand hygiene. Observed compliance with prescribed hand hygiene recommendations occurred 17.4% of the time. Despite knowledge of hand hygiene protocols and low compliance, 83.0% of students indicated that they practiced correct hand hygiene during the outbreak. To proactively prepare for future outbreaks, a current and thorough crisis communications and management strategy, targeted at a university student audience and supplemented with proper hand washing tools, should be enacted by residence administration.