(This is an update of a previous story.)
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The Wood County Health Department has confirmed that five of seven stool samples have tested positive for a common strain of norovirus after dozens of people reported feeling ill following a banquet held at Hotel Marshfield.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe norovirus as follows:
Norovirus is a very contagious virus. You can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed (acute gastroenteritis). This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and to throw up. Anyone can be infected with norovirus and get sick.
As of Wednesday morning, 58 people thus far interviewed who attended the event on April 16 had reported feeling ill with similar symptoms. While some of the 58 “sought medical care,” nobody was hospitalized, according to Nancy Eggleston, environmental health and communicable disease supervisor for the Wood County Health Department.
“The onset of illnesses is consistent with exposure around the time of the banquet,” Eggleston said.
Eggleston described the event as a “company party” for Roehl Transport. Of the approximately 176 guests that attended the event, 147 have been interviewed, including those that did not report any symptoms.
“The analysis of the ill versus well individuals and the foods consumed by each will get us closer to a possible cause of the outbreak,” Eggleston said.
Eggleston said an investigation into the outbreak is ongoing and that epidemiologists from the state Department of Health Services are assisting. Samples from event attendees were tested at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.
Eggleston described the transmission of norovirus as being fecal-oral. The CDC describes fecal-oral transmission as the “spread of microorganisms from the infected stool of one person into the mouth of another (and) may occur via fecal contamination of food or water supply or by hand-to-mouth transmission following inadequate hand washing after touching contaminated items.”
Any number of sources, Eggleston said, could have been responsible for the suspected outbreak. It could have been an event guest or staff member who did not yet know they were sick accidentally spreading the virus by, for instance, touching a serving spoon that other guests then used to apportion food.
Eggleston added that norovirus is the “most common GI (gastrointestinal) illness in the United States” and that it lasts one to three days.
“Norovirus is in the community, and it is important that anyone ill with norovirus symptoms not work in food or beverage service or provide care for young children or immune-compromised individuals while ill and for 48 hours after symptoms resolve,” Eggleston said.
Eggleston encouraged people who fall ill and suspect a foodborne or waterborne illness to contact their local health department. The Wood County Health Department can be reached at 715-387-8646.