Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 1, 6:23 p.m.See Thursday afternoon’s update here.

Ninety-six students have been treated for possible food poisoning late Tuesday evening, prompting the university to close O’Donovan Hall until investigations are completed.

The university held a press conference in the Leavey Program Room Wednesday afternoon to answer questions and address media concerns. Following the conference, university officials held an open forum for students in nearby Sellinger Lounge to again answer questions.

At the press conference, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson explained the university’s decision to close the dining hall Wednesday morning.

“At 12:45 am, the hospital let [Georgetown] know that they were seeing an extreme number of students with gastro-intestinal symptoms,” Olson said. “We convened a group of administrators [and] we made the decision early on to voluntarily close down the dining hall as a precaution and relocate student food service operations.”

However, at the open forum, Olson later said there are indications that the illnesses do stem from the university dining hall.

“Early evidence points to O’Donovan Hall being a common denominator here,” Olson said.

The student affairs head further said that the dining hall will remained closed until investigations are completed, and three meals a day will be offered to students with meal plans at the Center Grill in the Leavey Center. Hoya Court venues, which accept Flex Dollars, will also have extended hours in the upcoming days as a substitute for the normal Late Night option at the dining hall.

Eric Glasser, assistant hospital chief of service in the Department of Emergency Medicine, and John Davies-Cole, a state epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, joined Olson at the press conference. Glasser said that, since 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night, the hospital has seen 49 cases of students with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some dehydrations symptoms. Administering IV fluids and anti-nausea medicine were the most common forms of treatment, he added.

“The hospital had received 49 cases as of 1:30 pm [Wednesday]. None had to stay though.they were seen treated and sent home,” Glasser said.

In addition, Glasser said the university’s student health center has taken in 39 cases of students exhibiting similar symptoms, bringing the total count to 88. However, in a university broadcast email sent at 5:00 p.m., Olson reported that the total number had risen to approximately 96 students.

Glasser said that the symptoms students are exhibiting seem to be subsiding.

“Students we’re seeing now are not as sick as those that we saw earlier – which is a good sign,” he said.

Davies-Cole said the investigation into the cause of the illnesses is ongoing, and could not say at this point that it is in fact food poisoning.

“Right now we don’t know if it is a food-borne illness,” Davies-Cole said. “It is difficult to know if it has something to do with facilities [other than the dining hall].

As part of their investigation, the health department will be surveying affected students in conjunction with the university’s Office of Residence Life in order to better ascertain where they were eating and find the common link, Davies-Cole said, adding that he hopes to conduct this survey Wednesday evening.

In addition, Davies-Cole said the D.C. health department has been in contact with other health departments in Maryland and Virginia, but has thus far not learned of any other reported cases.

“We’re trying to investigate whether [affected students] ate at places [other than the university dining hall] as well. As indicated, it is very hard for us to say where else students have eaten as well,” he said.

Early Wednesday morning, eight Georgetown students with vomiting and nausea symptoms were still waiting to be treated in the emergency room. Out of the eight, six reported that they had eaten dinner at the dining hall or had Grab `n’ Go for dinner, while two reported they had not eaten at O’Donovan Hall since earlier in the day or Monday evening.

According to Peggy Keller, another D.C. health department representative in attendance at the press conference, the health department is in the process of compiling information from an ongoing comprehensive environmental and food safety test.

“I would say [the test] will completed hopefully within 48 hours,” Keller said.

According to Olson, the university is collaborating closely with health officials and ARAMARK, the on-campus dining provider, and plans to maintain close contact with students throughout the investigation.

“We will assure [students] that we take food safety and their safety very seriously,” Olson said.

From the Web:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/01/AR2008100101333.html

http://www.myfoxdc.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=7554063&version=9&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.1.1

http://www.wusa9.com/news/breaking/story.aspx?storyid=76745&catid=158

http://www.nbc4.com/health/17598556/detail.html

http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/1008/557987.html

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