32 Union College students test positive for intestinal parasite

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10/AP) – At least 32 students at Schenectady’s Union College have been diagnosed with a diarrheal illness commonly linked to contaminated lakes, streams and wells. The Union students tested positive for giardiasis: a gastrointestinal parasite that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea.

Throughout the pandemic, many college students have been asked to avoid large gatherings and participate in more safe outdoor activities. Many students took advantage of the nice weather and went swimming at nearby bodies of water. The students were then diagnosed with the intestinal parasite.

“It is on some level unfortunate if we find out that people were doing safe outdoor activities, and then they get sick from other factors. We are all concerned about COVID-19 and sometime forget that there are things like this people could be at risk at,” said Keith Brown, Interim Director of Schenectady County Health Department.

The bodies of water the students swam at include: the Hans Groot’s Kill, which runs through Jackson’s Garden and other parts of campus, and water at the nearby Plotterkill County Nature Preserve in the town of Rotterdam.

Fran’Cee Brown-McClure, the college’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students, confirmed the diagnoses in an email to students on Friday.

Officials at the Schenectady school are working with local health officials to try to determine the source of the illness. The school’s water supply tested negative for the giardia parasite. Some students say they became ill after swimming in local bodies of water.

“Certainly we are looking at whether or not people have been in creeks or other bodies of water. We are looking into whether or not they were drinking or swimming in water, that might have not been treated,” said Brown.  

Brown says they are looking into having those bodies of water tested and finding out whether they could be related to exposures.

He says with the disease being contagious, he wants those in affected to take action and avoid further exposure.

“Please contact your local health provider, get treated and practice good hygiene,” said Brown. 

According to the CDC, the parasite can be found within every region of the U.S. and around the world and survive without a host for months. Symptoms can last between two and six weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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