NOTRE DAME – More than 100 middle and high school students participating in summer sports camps at the University of Notre Dame became suddenly ill early Wednesday morning. Some were so sick they had to be hospitalized.
The big question neither the St. Joseph County health officer nor the university could answer Wednesday was exactly what caused more than 100 teenagers to become ill with stomach flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and body aches?
It might be another day before they know the answer. Indiana’s Department of Health and the St. Joseph County Health Department are testing stool samples and food the campers ate to see whether the illnesses were caused by a nasty stomach bug or food poisoning.
It’s a summer camp 13-year-old Chicago friends Elaine Johnson and Maeve Sheehan will always remember.
“I just kind of woke up [in the middle of the night] and started to have a sick feeling,” Johnson said. “The coaches brought us out into the hallway and every single girl had a small trash can. And everybody had a little pillow and blanket there and we were all just kind of throwing up everywhere.”
Suddenly, several of their lacrosse camp friends were also getting sick.
“I don’t know, I was kind of scared a little. It was weird,” Sheehan recalled.
She began vomiting hours later.
“Everybody was puking last night,” added football camper Alex Bradt, from Chaffield, MN. Bradt did not become ill, but he noted his camp did not have enough players to create teams for a scheduled scrimmage Wednesday because so many of the teens were sick.
About 30 campers on campus for lacrosse, tennis, soccer, hockey and football camps were so sick they had to be taken to the hospital. Several others were treated at the on-campus health center.
“We just wanted to be prepared as we could be,” explained University spokesman Dennis Brown. “We were able to do some transport but not knowing how many we’d end up with, we decided to err on the side of caution and have an ambulance stand by.”
That South Bend Fire Department ambulance stayed on campus most of the day.
“Poor kids, poor camp. They came here, they look forward to it and these things happen. It just happens,” said Jenny Bradt, who arrived on campus to pick up her son and his friend from football camp Wednesday, as scheduled.
The looming question though, was it food poisoning or a stomach virus that sidelined 107 campers?
“You suspect a Noro virus. That’s the same virus that hits cruise ships that most people have heard about,” said St. Joseph County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Felger. “It's the most common cause of, quote, ‘stomach flu.’ And the assumption is with this many young folks all getting sick at the same time, that’s probably what’s causing it.”
If it is a virus, the concern now is that the 1,100 teens on campus this week will head back to their homes across the country and possibly take the illness with them because they might be carrying the virus but not showing symptoms yet, Felger added.
More campers are scheduled to arrive on campus in the coming days. Parents will be informed about the situation, Brown said.