Norway: Investigators identify virus as cause of hotel epidemic

Norwegian food safety authorities have identified the virus that to date has left around 200 guests and staff at an Oslo-area hotel violently ill. The source of the virus, however, remains a mystery.


Thursday October 02 2008

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It may take weeks before an investigation by Norway's Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) can determine where the norovirus originated. Cold food served at a hotel buffet remains the prime suspect, but the virus also can easily be transmitted by people plagued by it.

Illness swept through the Clarion Hotel Gardermoen, near Oslo's main airport, Saturday afternoon and evening. Among the victims were members of a national diabetes foundation attending a conference and what was supposed to be the foundation's 60th anniversary party.

Instead, most of them wound up vomiting and suffering from acute diarrhea, especially serious ailments for diabetics. More than 30 were taken to hospital, and scores of other visitors at the hotel also fell ill, including hotel staff and members of a band hired in to play at the foundation's party.

Investigators are scrambling to narrow down common traces of food consumed by the victims. Complicating their probe, however, is the fact that the norovirus can spread quickly among people. That means victims didn't necessarily need to eat the same contaminated food to get sick.

"We're still analyzing a long list of food products served at the hotel, and have sent out questionnaires to those who became ill," Siw Ulvehøj of Mattilsynet told Aftenposten. But because anyone with the virus can easily spread it to others, Ylvehøj noted that it's possible the initial source of the virus won't be found.

Dr Unn-Berit Schjervheim said the highly infectious nature of the norovirus, and its outbreak at the Clarion Hotel, just stresses the need for people to wash their hands often, especially if they've been ill. "Hand hygiene, hand hygiene, hand hygiene," she exclaimed to Aftenposten. "Wash your hands, especially after going to the bathroom."



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