Norovirus Chipotle Mexican Grill Food Poisoning

Early last week, over 450 people reported they were stricken with food poisoning after eating at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in Kent, Ohio.  That city’s health department sent food and biological samples from sick customers to the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus.  Food tests from the Chipotle Mexican Grill did not confirm the virus’ origin; however, investigators confirmed they collected sufficient information to state that <"">norovirus is to blame.

Last week, city Health Commissioner John Ferlito said that Ohio Department of Health tests of stool samples came back positive for norovirus.  ”It was definitely a norovirus outbreak,” Ferlito said Monday. ”It looks like people ingested it through the food.  How it got into the food, I can’t ascertain at this moment.”  Results of the food tests came up negative for fecal coliform, a bacteria often found in human waste, Ferlito said and Ohio Department of Health spokesman Kristopher Weiss said there is no specific test for norovirus in food.

But, he said, ”if we were to find fecal coliforms, it would be indicative of fecal contamination, which can lead to norovirus and other illnesses.”  Tests were negative for four other types of bacteria linked to gastrointestinal illnesses:  Salmonella, staphyloenterotoxin, shigella, and E.coli.  Ferlito said it remains unclear whether the food was contaminated in Kent or before it got to the restaurant.

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and infection can occur by ingesting contaminated food or liquids; touching contaminated surfaces or objects; and having direct contact with an infected person.  Noroviruses are very contagious and people are contagious the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery, sometimes up to two weeks after recovery.  Because there are many different norovirus strains, it is difficult for a person’s body to develop long-lasting immunity; norovirus illness can recur throughout a lifetime.

Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis in humans and cause about half of all gastroenteritis worldwide.  Noroviruses cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping and may cause chills, headache, low-grade fever, muscle aches, and general malaise.  The illness often begins suddenly and intensely and, in most cases, is self-limiting with symptoms lasting a couple of days.  Children tend to vomit more than adults and the very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable.  Symptoms usually occur within 12 to 48 hours from exposure.  People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most people get better within a couple of days and suffer no long-term health effects; however, some are unable to drink enough liquids to replace what they lost and can become dehydrated and require medical attention.  Norovirus, like all viruses, cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Ferlito said no new cases were reported, but that some secondary cases among people who cared for the sick cropped up last week.  Ferlito said ”it is a possibility” that customers picked up the virus from a surface.  However, he said, ”I can’t believe 450 people came in contact with the same spot.”

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