At least 32 students from Union College in New York are diagnosed with a diarrheal illness called giardiasis, commonly linked to contaminated lakes, streams, and wells.
The first wave of infections started earlier this month, with college officials first noticing the disease on campus last October 14. Four days later, the Union College student newspaper Concordiensis reported that 18 students had been infected.
By Friday, October 23, the number of infections had reached 30, and college officials were collaborating with the Schenectady County Department of Health to track down the source.
A Case of Forbidden Skinny-Dipping?
A message sent to students by the College’s Dean and Vice President for Student Affairs Fran’Cee Brown-McClure revealed that cases have been confirmed across on-campus and off-campus housing.
It has occurred with students who are known to share the same social groups, and the message speculates that the most recent cases could be the result of person-to-person transmission through close contact.
Some infected students stated that they had swum in water not meant for recreational activity. This includes the Hans Groot’s Kills, a stream that runs through the campus, and the Plotterkill County Nature Preserve in Rotterdam. McClure’s message reminded students to not swim in unregulated bodies of water.
Exposure to Giardia Parasite
The Giardia parasite thrives in water that has been contaminated with feces from infected humans and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The parasite is protected by an outer shell, which allows it to survive for long periods of time and makes it tolerant of chlorine disinfection.
While not everyone who ingests the parasite develops symptoms, those that do will suffer from nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and dehydration for two to six weeks.
The disease can be spread by drinking contaminated water, uncooked food, and personal contact.
Giardiasis and Coronavirus
The outbreak of Giardiasis has arrived amid the college’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus. As of Sunday, the college had reported 12 positive results out of 16,009 total tests since August 17, while 24 students are in quarantine.