Meningitis Outbreak at UMD

Read about the meningitis outbreak at the University of Maryland and other viral outbreaks on college campuses across the country. Below is the full article written for my feature writing journalism class. There is also a link to the abridged version, which has been published on The Odyssey Online.


Ebola may be making headlines but it isn’t the virus most people should be afraid of and college students, not health care workers, should be the most worried about contracting numerous other viruses.

Thousands of students and faculty at universities across the country fall victim to outbreaks of viruses such as meningitis, gastroenteritis and mumps every year.

The University of Maryland is the latest to have an outbreak of a virus- viral meningitis. The number of cases has grown to 20 at the University of Maryland, according to the University Health Center.

“Since this discovery, the Health Center has been tracking these cases carefully in close collaboration with the Prince George’s County Health Department and the State Health Department,” David McBride, the director of the health center said in an address to the university.

Viral meningitis is not as dangerous as another strain of the virus- bacterial meningitis. According to McBride, symptoms of viral meningitis include severe headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting and sometimes dehydration.

“I think it [the outbreak] is very concerning and ever since I found out about it I have been very cautious about sharing drinks or anything from people at parties,” Jenny Gandhi, a senior at the University of Maryland said.

The University of Maryland is not the first college to be hit with an outbreak where students and faculty members fall ill and in some cases, have to be admitted to the hospital.

A common virus to spread quickly around universities is mumps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mumps is a vaccine-preventable viral disease, characterized by the swelling of the salivary glands; serious complications, such as meningitis can occur if the virus goes untreated.

In October 2011, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) confirmed a mumps outbreak at the University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif.. The number of suspected and confirmed cases grew to 44 and began when a UC Berkeley student contracted the virus in Great Britain, according to the CDPH.

“It’s actually not unusual for outbreaks of mumps in the U.S. that there has been some contact with someone who has been out of the country,” Mike Sicilia, the spokesperson for the department said.

The virus quickly spread through high-population student quarters with shared dining and bathroom facilities. The university health services focused preventive efforts on those areas and encouraged students to get the Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine (MMR).

In February 2014, there were outbreaks of mumps on the Ohio State University, Fordham University and Loyola University Maryland campuses. According to Columbus Public Health, Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, had a total of 155 students, 31 staff members and 54 community members with links to the university diagnosed with mumps. Fordham University in New York stated that it had a total of 13 suspected cases and Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore confirmed that it had more than a dozen students with the virus.

At all three universities, the administration sent emails or had information posted on their websites about the outbreak and students were encouraged to seek medical treatment immediately if they experienced any symptoms.

“If you develop symptoms of mumps, please stay home from work, school, sports and all public gatherings for five days after symptoms start. You should seek medical care to be properly diagnosed,” Ohio State University officials said.

According to the university, Fordham had isolated infected students and in some cases, sent the infected students home; however, because symptoms appear days or even weeks after a person is infected, the number of cases could grow.

Recently, these universities have reported a decrease in the number of cases since the outbreaks first began due to catching symptoms early and containing the virus.

Along with mumps, gastroenteritis, sometimes referred to as norovirus, is also very commonly spread throughout colleges. Gastroenteritis is an intestinal infection caused by norovirus and is marked by diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting and sometimes fever, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is contracted through close contact with an infected person or from contaminated food or water.

There is no cure for viral gastroenteritis; therefore prevention is key. If a person is in good overall health, he/she will most likely recover without further complications. For infants or the elderly with weakened immune systems, viral gastroenteritis could be deadly.

In October 2013, Stanford University in Stanford Calif. had an outbreak of gastroenteritis. 62 students living in the same residence hall visited the university’s health center with symptoms that included vomiting and diarrhea. Seven students were admitted to Stanford Hospital and Clinics for severe dehydration and were treated and released, according to Stanford University.

The Santa Clara County Public Health Department conducted an investigation on Stanford’s campus and, although it could not find the source of the outbreak, determined that, due to the symptoms, gastroenteritis was the cause of the students’ illness.

The virus was identified early and preventive methods were quickly put in place to stop the spread of it to other residence and dining halls across the campus

In the spring of 2011, the norovirus hit Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich. so severely that the university postponed its commencement for one week. The university reported that over 170 students were infected and hoped that postponing the commencement would help stop the spread of the virus.

“These decisions are preventative and consistent with the medical advice received. Of utmost concern for all of us is the safety and health of our campus community and the families and friends planning on participating in the various academic year-end activities,” University President at the time, Charles Webb said in an address to the university. “Spring Arbor University has a responsibility of doing what is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus.”

All of these viruses are so common among college students because everyone is living and eating in such close quarters. Sharing bathrooms is also a large factor when it comes to the spread of viruses.

According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), “college freshmen who live in dormitories are 6 times more likely than other people to be infected with meningitis. They have the country’s highest rate of the disease at 5.1 cases per 100,000.”

Similar to the universities suffering from the outbreak of mumps, these universities used early diagnosis and preventive methods in order to stop the spread of gastroenteritis.

Currently dealing with its own outbreak, the University of Maryland’s recent spread of meningitis is now suspected as stemming from the respiratory enterovirus-68 that has spread across the nation. The state public health lab in Maryland is conducting further testing to confirm this connection, State Epidemiologist Dr. David Blythe said.

According to the university health center, five meningitis cases were confirmed as having been caused by an enterovirus, however, with more than 100 strains of the virus, the university is not certain which strain caused the meningitis and predicted that it may be weeks before officials know.

The university is urging students and faculty to stay vigilant in personal hygiene and hand washing in order to control and hopefully, stop the spread of the virus.

Meningitis Outbreak at UMD

Lindsey Silverberg, an Advocate for Victims

Read about Lindsey Silverberg, a case manager for the Network for Victim Recovery of DC..  She is an advocate for victims of sexual assault and dedicates her time to supporting and assisting victims of these heinous crimes. Below is the full profile written for my feature writing journalism class. There is also a link to the abridged version, which has been published on The Odyssey Online.


Ever since Lindsey Silverberg had an “ah-ha” moment in her victimology class at the University of Maryland, she knew she wanted to help victims of sexual assault and gender-based crime.

“I can remember sitting in class and being really fascinated with the intersectionality of crime and victimization and reasons for that and I was just like ‘this is what I want to do’ it just kind of clicked,” Silverberg said.

For much of her post-graduate life, Silverberg, 28, has been involved in the research of and has worked with victims of gender-based crime and sexual assault. Now, she works as an advocacy and outreach supervisor for the Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC).

She often is on-call and responds to late-night and early-morning phone calls from the hospital when victims come in. Silverberg is there for them from the moment they walk in to future court dates and safety planning. She becomes their advocate and provides them with a network of support.

Silverberg was a criminology and criminal justice major and women’s studies minor and had taken and been a teaching assistant for several gender studies and victimology classes. During her senior year her interest grew and she began working for Campus Advocates Respond and Educate (CARE) to Stop Violence, an on-campus organization. There she responded to victims of abuse, assault and stalking.

While working, her personal life began spilling over to her work life. Along with dealing with victims in an official capacity, Silverberg said her friends unofficially would disclose incidents of their sexual assaults; she found these reports especially hard because she knew the victim and many times, the offender as well.

“There were a couple of offenders that I was pretty close to before I found out that they were raping people,” Silverberg said. “That’s why I think for a lot of people it [reporting sexual assault] is so scary because [people are] like ‘I don’t believe you because he seems like such a good guy, or he’s super popular or he’s in this fraternity, why or how would he ever do that?’”

Silverberg said that it was because of this that she felt the need to take some time off from direct victim services.

“It was really apparent to me that I needed to take a break, at least from direct services. Given how small the [University of] Maryland community is, I knew a lot of both the survivors on campus and the offenders and that was really challenging to navigate while being a student,” Silverberg said.

Silverberg graduated from the university in 2007 and attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she studied criminology and public health and graduated with her master’s degree in 2010.

While at UNC Wilmington, Silverberg conducted much of her research on sexual assault in the military, a topic she thought was particularly interesting and one with very little published research. She recognizes that men also are victims of sexual assault in the military, but finds it more horrifying for women, since they have joined a male-dominated organization, are risking their lives to defend their country and are being sexually assaulted.

Almost all of her papers were about sexual assault and sexual assault in the military. For her thesis she looked at attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that would make someone more likely to perpetrate sexual assault specific to the military population. She surveyed students that were veterans or on active duty. Unfortunately, Silverberg said that because of the small sample size she was unable to find anything significant.

She did however, gain the military’s attention, and it wasn’t favorable. Officials reported her to the Institutional Review Board, the organization that approves research studies, and accused of calling military people rapists and unpatriotic. Fortunately, nothing came of the allegations.

“It was an interesting experience to have happen given the fact that it was such a volatile environment surrounding the fact that I was looking at what would make somebody more likely to perpetrate sexual assault,” Silverberg said.

After graduating, Silverberg worked in the public health sector for two years, at Danya International Inc., a for-profit organization that helps people live healthier lives, in Silver Spring, Md.. She managed small business innovative research grants for children with autism and life-threatening illnesses.

Silverberg enjoyed her time working with the children and families she met through Danya International, but she explained, “It wasn’t what fueled me,” so she applied to work with NVRDC, where she officially began two years ago.

She started as a case manager and worked her way to outreach services. Her job varies depending if she is in the office or on-call. As part of her job, Silverberg needs to be on call several times a month for 24 hours in case a victim comes into the hospital in need of her services. She meets with the victim and stays with her through a medical forensic exam and provides support. If necessary, she offers emergency housing, safety planning and any additional resources the victim needs.

When she isn’t on call, Silverberg attends court cases with victims, following up with clients and detectives or working on the Poly-Victimization grant, an NRVDC research project exploring why victims who suffer an attack are at greater risk for experiencing another one.

Silverberg acknowledges the mental, physical and emotional toll this job takes on her.

“Not every day is a great day in this work,” Silverberg said.

During a particularly hard day, Silverberg remembers the good things that happen as part of her job. She gets to see how resilient people are in the aftermath of something terrible, and how empowered they become to move on. She speaks of one survivor she helped, with whom she stays in touch. She was the second victim she helped.

“It’s amazing to see how far she’s come since [the attack] happened. She’s such an inspiration,” Silverberg said. “It’s cool to see when someone takes a life event that’s been so terrible and figures out a way to make something positive out of it.”

Her family is very supportive, , especially her husband Ryan. They met when both worked in a local bar near the University of Maryland’s campus. She didn’t like him at first, but went out with him anyway and changed her mind. They got engaged in 2009 and married twice – once before Ryan deployed to Afghanistan and after he got back and she finished grad school The second wedding was a lot bigger and fancier than their original courthouse nuptials.

Silverberg wasn’t always very open about what she did. In the beginning, fearing peoples’ reactions, she avoided discussing her work. Instead, she made things up- telling people she was a storm chaser and worked for “National Geographic.” Later, however, she willingly talked about her experiences.

Now, “I’m proud of what I do,” Silverberg said.


After the video of Rice beating his fiancée was highly publicized all over the Internet, many people were asking how Palmer could have possibly stayed with him after the abuse. Victims of domestic violence came forward and started to tweet about reasons why they stayed, to show people that it is much more difficult to leave an abusive relationship than people think. The hashtag #WhyILeft also emerged and showed the reasons why victims finally left their abusive partners. Read more about this in my new article for The Odyssey Online.


Bullying and Suicide: The Dangerous Relationship

Bullying is a serious problem in today’s world among youth. Read about one boy’s experience with bullying and how it is an example of what kids must deal with every day. In order to work together against bullying, it is important to know the signs and to reach out to victims. Early intervention is key to reducing the risk of suicide due to bullying.

Bullying and Suicide: The Dangerous Relationship