Adding Insult to Injury: Salmonella Outbreak Hits Bates following COVID-19 Outbreak


Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student

Amidst the outbreak of Salmonella bacteria over the past week, DCCE installed several more hand sanitizing stations around Commons.

When he first woke up an hour and a half early on Friday, April 9th, Isaac Williams ’23 immediately knew something was wrong. 

“In a few minutes after waking up I rushed to the bathroom with diarrhea. As the virus worsened I got a mix between sweats and chills; a headache grew throughout the day as well,” Williams said.

As of Monday, at least 14 students, including Williams, reported experiencing GI symptoms to Bates Health Services (BHS) since Friday. However, an informal poll on Instagram conducted by The Student indicates the number is likely much higher. Approximately a quarter of more than 400 respondents reported experiencing similar symptoms last week.

These symptoms include—but are not limited to—nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation.

In an email Tuesday, Dr. Paige Picard of BHS confirmed that the GI symptoms could be attributed to the presence of Salmonella bacteria. “While Salmonella is a foodborne illness, on rare occasions, it can be spread through person-to-person contact,” Picard explained. “Salmonella bacteria is very easy to kill, and most people recover without specific treatment.”

Salmonella is a common contributor to foodborne illness in the United States, with the CDC estimating that Salmonella bacteria causes approximately 1.35 million infections every year. “The incubation period for Salmonella, or when you may expect onset of symptoms after exposure, is anywhere from six hours to six days,” Picard said. “Symptoms can last for four to seven days.”

Although the exact origin of the Salmonella bacteria is not confirmed, many of the students who reached out to BHS regarding their GI symptoms reported eating the popular vegan pad thai served at lunch last Thursday. 

Dining Services initiated an investigation on Friday, and sent samples of the pad thai to a lab for testing. Picard cautioned that this testing may not reveal a conclusive result; however, in an abundance of caution, all related ingredients have been removed from DCCE facilities. 

Emma Christman ’22 also suffered from GI symptoms, but initially dismissed those symptoms as a byproduct of anxiety. 

“I started experiencing symptoms around 10pm on Thursday as just a stomach ache. I attributed it to anxiety and went to bed,” she said. “However, around 1 a.m., I woke up with intense stomach pain, nausea, and sweats/chills.”

Unable to get help from her friends due to the in-room quarantine restrictions, Christman called Bates EMS, who suggested that she go to the hospital due to the severity of her symptoms. 

“At the ER they suspected I had appendicitis or a stomach issue because of some odd test results and the pain I was experiencing,” she said. “Regardless, they figured out it wasn’t those problems, but still weren’t entirely sure what it was and sent me back to Bates around 5 a.m.” 

Christman added that she did not know others were also ill.

“This was all before I knew anyone else was also ill, and so I had no idea myself,” she said. “It wasn’t until later that day when I was talking to peers that I realized I was not alone in my sickness!”

Williams reached out to BHS soon after his symptoms worsened. “I called at 11:30 a.m. on Friday because I wanted to see if I could beat this on my own in the early morning, and soon realized I would need help,” Williams explained. “I was able to secure a 1:30 p.m. appointment.”

In her email, Picard explained that students who have symptoms consistent with those of a Salmonella infection should avoid using antibiotics, as they can actually prolong the illness. “It is important to stay hydrated and monitor for signs of dehydration which can include dizziness, lightheadedness, and dry mouth and skin,” Picard said. 

Both Williams and Christman remained symptomatic over the weekend. “I got an email from Dr. Picard checking up on me. She also provided resources for me to reach out to if things got worse,” Williams said.

Around this time, rumors surrounding the Salmonella outbreak spread throughout social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Some students attributed their symptoms to the vegan pad thai, while others incorrectly theorized an outbreak of norovirus. 

While Williams has largely recovered from his experience, Christman continues to struggle with her symptoms. 

“I still haven’t fully regained my appetite,” she said. “I struggle to eat more than small amounts of simple foods, and I haven’t been able to eat a full-sized meal without pain yet.” 

In her announcement Tuesday, Picard encouraged students to take precautions to protect themselves against the Salmonella outbreak. She suggested that students “wash your hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom and before eating; wash laundry thoroughly; and clean and disinfect surfaces in your room.”

Picard also asked that students who are experiencing symptoms consistent with a Salmonella infection reach out to BHS at (207) 386-6199. If it is an emergency, call (207) 386-6111 to be connected to Bates EMS and Campus Safety.