A freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, died Sunday of complications from adenovirus, and her family is questioning whether the university — which has seen several cases of the illness — could have done more to prevent her death and whether it was related to a mold outbreak in some dorms.
Olivia Paregol, an 18-year-old from Glenwood in Howard County, had been sick since early in the semester, when she first developed a cough. Her condition worsened and she contracted pneumonia. After leaving school, she was taken to the emergency room multiple times before she died at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said her father, Ian Paregol.
In a letter to the campus community acknowledging the death of a student, the university said that six cases of “adenovirus-associated illness” have been confirmed on the College Park campus.
“We offer our condolences during this difficult time,” the university’s health director, Dr. David McBride, wrote. “While we are normally prohibited from sharing medical information publicly, we have been authorized by a family member to share this news and urge others to take seriously this strain of a common virus.”
The virus, which has more than 50 strains, can cause illnesses ranging from common colds to pneumonia. Fever, diarrhea, intestinal infections and neurological diseases are also possible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Serious conditions stemming from adenovirus are rare, but they are more common in people with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC. Olivia Paregol was at risk because medication she was taking to combat Crohn’s disease weakened her immune system, her father said.
The CDC, the Maryland Department of Health and the Prince George’s County Health Department are investigating the outbreak on campus. Brian Bachus, chief of the state health department’s division of outbreak investigations, said the state health department first became aware of the campus outbreak Nov. 12, after the Prince George’s County Health Department reported it to his team.
It’s not unusual for a university to experience an adenovirus outbreak around this time of year, he said.
“It’s not always known when there’s an outbreak on campus because people are going to different physicians,” Bachus said. “It probably happens more frequently than we’re aware.”
The CDC and Prince George’s County Health Department did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
To stem the spread of adenovirus, the university health center, residential buildings, transportation services, recreation centers and student union are increasing cleaning of “high-touch surfaces” and restrooms, according to the health center. And the school’s dining services are changing self-service utensils every 15 minutes.
Ian Paregol said his daughter came down with a cough several weeks into the semester, her first at the College Park campus, where she was studying criminology. She visited the University Health Center several times as her condition worsened, he said.
Ian Paregol said he’s trying to understand whether her condition was exacerbated by a mold outbreak on the campus this fall. Olivia lived in Elkton Hall, one of the dorms that students were evacuated from so crews could treat the buildings for mold.
“Every kid in that dorm is sick,” Ian Paregol said.
McBride’s letter says the university learned of the first adenovirus case Nov. 1, and since then five additional cases have been reported. On Monday, the university learned the CDC identified one case as adenovirus 7, a strain that can cause more severe illness, the letter says.
“Vigilance is extremely important for those with chronic medical problems like asthma, diabetes or illnesses that lower your immune system or if you take medicine that lowers your immune system,” McBride wrote in the letter. “It is vitally important not to ignore these symptoms and visit a physician within 48 hours of developing symptoms.”
He was not available for further comment.
In an FAQ about adenovirus on the University Health Center’s website, the center said there was not a clear link between mold found in dorms and adenovirus.
“While it is true that mold can cause irritation of the respiratory tract and make individuals more susceptible to viral infections in general, the cases of adenovirus-associated illness on campus have been seen both in students living on and off campus and among students in residence halls affected by mold and not,” the FAQ says. “As such, it appears that there is no consistent connection between mold exposure and the incidents of adenovirus infection affecting UMD students.”
Besides the mold, Paregol said he’s more concerned about whether the university knew there were students on campus with adenovirus before his daughter contracted the virus, particularly because she visited the health center frequently, and the medication she took for Crohn’s suppressed her immune system. Paregol said the health center should have known Olivia was at risk because the center received and dispensed her medication.
When Olivia came down with a fever, Paregol became more concerned. She left school to rest for a day at home Oct. 31 and later saw her home physician Nov. 5. She was diagnosed with pneumonia during a Nov. 6 emergency room visit, and returned to the emergency room Nov. 9, Paregol said.
“Her left lung was completely whited out with pneumonia,” Paregol said. “From there if just got worse.”
On Nov. 12, she was admitted to the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Paregol said.
Paregol said he called the university seeking information about the mold on campus to find out whether that might affect Olivia’s condition. Eventually, he said, he spoke with McBride, and the university ultimately relayed information about adenovirus cases on campus to Hopkins doctors. She then tested positive for adenovirus.
“If they would have known a week earlier, I think there would have been a different result,” Paregol said. “This should never have happened.”
Paregol said his daughter was “just the sweetest kid” — the type who, from elementary school through college, took newcomers and outsiders under her wing.
“She made friends with everyone,” Paregol said. “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.”
The youngest of three siblings, Olivia was a free spirit with a penchant for prompting laughter, Paregol said.
“She was a typical freshman girl, enjoying the freedom that college presented while maintaining her grades,” he said.
Paregol said his family is going to try to get through the next few weeks before having deeper conversations with the university. But he said he’s already encouraged the school’s health center to urge students to get examined by their home physicians during their Thanksgiving break. He hopes it will prevent other families from going through the same pain, he said.
Paregol said he’s been going through photos of Olivia as the family has been preparing for her services.
“It’s just killing me,” he said. “But in every picture she’s just looking up to her brother and sister. She’s just goofy, alive and fun-loving.”