Chips transmit illness at wedding reception in Rochester

8/7/2008 11:32:25 AM

By Jeff Hansel
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN 

Source of Article:


More than 20 people who attended a Rochester wedding reception Friday night got sick after eating tortilla chips contaminated with norovirus, possibly from fecal matter.

"Initial reports came through from a member of the wedding party itself, indicating ... a number of people being ill," said Kari Etrheim, public information officer for Olmsted County Public Health.

The illness spread after an infected guest grabbed handfuls of chips at the reception hall, Etrheim said.

Noroviruses spread largely through food or water contaminated by fecal matter, or through close contact with infected people, according to Anyone who ate chips before the infected guest escaped unscathed. But those who ate them afterward unknowingly risked illness.

Health officials kept detailed charts to match illness to foods eaten by guests. "Other foods may have been contaminated as well, but only the chips were statistically significant," said epidemiologist Larry Edmonson.

Norovirus usually causes diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting within 24 to 48 hours of exposure, says the Mayo Web site. Symptoms last one to five days, and most people recover without treatment.

The first call about the wedding reception at the Rochester Eagles Club was received around 3:30 p.m. Monday. By 6 p.m., at least eight public-health experts were investigating.

"I think we conducted 74 interviews Monday evening -- it's much easier when you're given a list of people who were there," Etrheim said. Symptoms of foodborne illness typically show up 36 to 48 hours after exposure, she said.

Because of quick response, cooperation and a contained outbreak, it's unlikely others will become ill, health officials said.

It's a reminder, for all ages, of a basic lesson school kids learn.

"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," Etrheim said. "If you're feeling ill, and if you've had diarrhea, we really ask people to refrain from cooking and helping with any food preparation activities for three days after the illness has subsided."

The Eagles kitchen closed for two days for deep cleaning, even though there was no public health request to do so and the norovirus is believed brought in by a guest, said Kevin Hanson, Fraternal Order of Eagles manager.



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