What’s the deal with … infectious disease rumors in Thurston?

After more than 1,000 freshmen settle into Thurston Hall and start hearing about the infectious disease outbreaks rumored to plague the building each year, they might begin wondering what other vaccines they should have gotten before moving in.

From scabies on the sixth floor to syphilis on the second, this close-proximity and notoriously promiscuous residence hall is subject to a frenzy of word-of-mouth warnings that leave residents wondering what’s spreading: rumors or disease?

Student Health Services Director Isabel Goldenberg, who has worked with the health center for 25 years, said she hears about these rumors every year. But apparently they should be taken about as seriously as your freshman next-door neighbor hook up – Goldenberg advises students to “take them with a grain of salt.”

“Just because a student is vocal about a problem doesn’t mean it is a bigger problem,” she said. “I don’t want to discourage very vocal students, but it doesn’t mean it qualifies for an outbreak.”

Only one situation has qualified as an outbreak in recent GW history, Goldenberg said. Two years ago, SHS detected 12 to 15 cases of the same strain of the flu virus in one sorority. An outbreak is classified as two or more cases of the same virus detected and confirmed by culture analysis.

Rumors of sexually transmitted diseases spreading from one bedroom to the next are some of the most talked about, but Goldenberg said she thinks they are “just rumors.” Student Health keeps STD statistics confidential, and the center does not track where infected students live, but Goldenberg said she has no reason to believe the STD rumors are real. Ten cases of STDs were reported to SHS in 2001, when SHS officials disclosed STD statistics to The Hatchet.

As far as the scabies, Goldenberg said there were no more cases last year than the year before. Scabies is a parasitic disease that involves a microscopic mite irritating the skin.

“Every year we see some students who have scabies,” Goldenberg said.

SHS sees students each year who come in concerned that they may have contracted the disease rumored to be spreading around their floor. These students, however, are more affected by the hearsay than the disease, Goldenberg said.

“Most of the time students have concerns and not symptoms,” she said.

The health center also receives phone calls from concerned parents who have caught wind of outbreak rumors, Goldenberg said. SHS employees advise these parents to send their children to the health center to be evaluated.

Goldenberg has another, practical and perhaps more valuable piece of advice for parents: “If you hear there is gonorrhea on the eighth floor and your son or daughter hasn’t had sex with a person with gonorrhea, then there is nothing to worry about.”

So, as fall begins, who knows what this year’s outbreak rumor will be? But one thing is for certain: it’ll spread like scabies.

-Caitlin Carroll

“What’s the deal with …” is a new weekly feature in the Style section. If you have a suggestion for the column, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com

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