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Suspected Norovirus Outbreak Hits Students in Canada

In what is being described as the most recent example of a live-tweeted outbreak of illness, student journalists in Canada used Twitter this past weekend to report what likely was a rash of norovirus at a conference in British Columbia.

According to a report in The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s student newspaper, and accounts in other Canadian media, some 50 to 60 out of 360 delegates became ill Saturday night at the Canadian University Press’s 74th National Conference.

The Vancouver Sun said the outbreak numbers could be higher, but conference organizers “stopped counting around 4 a.m. Sunday.” About 11 of the students students reportedly were treated for dehydration at a Victoria hospital.

An evening gala event and awards ceremony had to be cancelled because of the number of people getting sick — some of them while they were on a bus leaving the hotel for the event.

Conference delegates live-tweeted reports of new cases of vomiting and diarrhea at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites, and the efforts to clean up and contain the problem. University press staff also used Twitter, advising delegates to remain in their rooms in isolation, and that Gatorade and Tylenol would be dispensed. 

The Vancouver Sun said delegates praised the conference organizers and hotel staff for keeping everyone informed throughout the night.

Vancouver Island Health Authority spokeswoman Suzanne Germain told the National Post the students’ symptoms were those typically associated with norovirus. She said no one was in serious danger — “you may wish you were dead, but it’s not going to kill you.”

Last year, the University of Iowa published a study in the online journal PloS ONe , showing how Twitter chatter and other social networking services could be used to track rapidly evolving disease outbreaks. 

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