‘Tis the Season for Noroviruses, Winter 2015 Edition – NoroCORE Food Virology

‘Tis the Season for Noroviruses, Winter 2015 Edition

Norovirus EM imageThis has been a productive couple of weeks for the human norovirus, and there have been a number of high-profile outbreaks in the US. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Last week, headlines started coming out of Seattle about people becoming sick with norovirus-like symptoms in connection with a catered event held at the beginning of December at Russell Investments Center, a large office building. Based on the results of 200 guest surveys, 150 of the function’s 600 attendees were ill, and another fifty cases were reported to the local public health agency. A small number of people went to the emergency room for their illness. The building stayed open while being sanitized, but the outbreak did lead to the temporary closure of all of the food vendors in the building. The event included a catered meal, but there is evidence to suggest people were sick before the festivities, and a cafeteria in the building may have been involved, but the investigation is ongoing.

A few hours later and a few miles away in California, Chapman University started having its own gastrointestinal troubles. Students began feeling lousy a few hours after dinner on December 2nd and about fifty students were affected. The institution’s dining commons closed for deep cleaning over the weekend, and reopened on December 7th. Norovirus is believed to be the cause and one student tested positive for the virus, but the epidemiological investigation by the Orange County Health Department is ongoing. Several of the affected students lived off-campus and did not use the on-campus eateries, leading the investigators to believe it was not a foodborne outbreak. The University responded with a multifaceted approach that included student education, training on norovirus for the dining hall staff, an FAQ on the virus, and increased cleaning and disinfection measures.

Lastly, while you may have heard of the recent string of E. Coli cases at Chipotle restaurants, one location in Massachusetts experienced a norovirus outbreak last week. Most of the affected were students at Boston College, and the particular location was temporarily closed, reportedly for sanitizing and testing of its employees. The common denominator has been eating at the restaurant the weekend prior, and initially, eighty students, including eight members of the men’s basketball team, had fallen ill. A few days later, that number had jumped to 141, in addition to a small number of secondary cases, and all but a handful were students at Boston College. On December 9th, norovirus was confirmed as the causative agent by the Massachusetts Department of Health and an employee may have been working while ill before the cases began. A few days ago, Chipotle’s founder issued a public apology to those who became sick.

Fingers crossed we don’t have more norovirus outbreaks this season, but if you do get sick, remember to send us your story for a chance at some nice Amazon gift cards!

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