University of Maryland students are growing increasingly concerned mold problems in their dorms may be linked to the death of a freshman who succumbed to the same rare virus that killed 11 children in New Jersey.
Olivia Paregol, 18, was early in her first semester when she developed a cough, which later worsened to pneumonia. She died on November 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, from adenovirus, which causes respiratory problems.
Paregol, from Howard County, Maryland, died less than three weeks after the school learned she had the illness. The university has since said five more students have illnesses tied to the same rare virus.
Jessica Thompson told CBS News she and her roommate discovered mold on their shoes and clothes in their dorm back in August — and believes the fungus caused them to fall ill.
“You can’t sleep at night because the pillow is right next to mold and you’re up all night coughing,” Thompson said. “We got to go home on the weekends and we would be totally fine at home, and we would come back and would be sniffling and coughing and then have headaches.”
After the roommates repeatedly alerted university officials, the pair — along with about 500 other students — were moved to temporary housing while the school worked to clean the dorms, Thompson said.
Ian Paregol, Olivia’s father, also claimed his daughter’s room had mold.
Paregol told the Baltimore Sun he believed his daughter – who suffered from Crohn’s disease and a weakened immune system – was impacted by a mold outbreak reported at the school earlier this year.
The 18-year-old student lived in Elkton Hall, one of the dorms evacuated for cleaning.
Speaking to the Sun, the grieving father said: "Every kid in that dorm is sick.
"This should never have happened."
He also described his daughter to the newspaper as "just the sweetest kid."
"If there were any new kids, she would sort of bring that kid into the fold and make it so that kid didn’t have a lonely experience," he said.
"She was a typical freshman girl, enjoying the freedom that college presented while maintaining her grades."
Describing the potential impact the mold had on his daughter’s death, he told CBS News: “It didn’t help the illness… I think that’s a really fair statement. We don’t know that there’s causation, yet, but it didn’t help things.”
Dr. David McBride, head of the university’s campus health center, told the outlet that while the university acknowledges adenovirus has affected some of its students, they don’t “want to stir up unnecessary angst.”
“What we’ve done is we’ve stepped up our cleaning efforts, we’re on high alert here and we’re working to be very diligent to follow up on cases when students are sick to make sure that they don’t worsen,” he said.
State and local health officials are investigating the outbreak, the university said. Mold can cause respiratory symptoms, including wheezing and a stuffy nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this fall, the same strain of the Adenovirus was found to be at the center of a viral outbreak at a rehabilitation center in Wanaque, New Jersey, that has killed 11 children.