Dare County health officials have determined the highly-contagious norovirus was likely the cause of an illness that sickened an estimated 60 people who attended an event earler this month in Manteo.
Josh Coltrain, Environmental Health Supervisor for the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement Wednesday that most likely someone at the event had the virus but did not know it.
“This is the same type of virus seen affecting cruise ships,” Coltrain said. “Most likely, an asymptomatic but still infectious individual attended the event and led to the outbreak due to the large number of people in close contact.”
“Viruses such as these are highly contagious, and can spread through casual contact such as handshakes, touching contaminated door knobs, touching items at a self-serve beverage station, etc.,” Coltrain said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the most common symptoms of norovirus are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain, and that outbreaks are common.
A person usually develops symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. Most people with norovirus illness get better within one to three days.
One of those who became ill contacted OBX Today earlier this week and said the event was held over the weekend at Pirates Cove on the Manteo causeway, and was catered by a company from Kitty Hawk.
Coltrain said approximately 250 people attended the charity event. A press release from Dare County Health and Human Services issued after this story was published said the event took place on May 3.
One person was confirmed to have sought treatment at The Outer Banks Hospital, and another at OBX Urgent Care.
A gastrointestinal tract sample from the patient treated at OBX Urgent Care tested negative for any food-borne bacteria, according to Coltrain.
The press release issued late Wednesday said three people sought medical treatment.
“Environmental Health Unit investigation found the caterer to be in compliance with N.C. Food Code regulations with respect to food handling, preparation, cooking temperatures, transporting and hot/cold holding temperatures,” Coltrain said. “All food supplied by the caterer was from an approved source.”
He added that all catering staff members were in compliance with respect to service of food, utensil usage, clothing and gloves.
“Seafood supplied from a local seafood company was in compliance and from an approved source,” Coltrain said,
Coltrain also noted a “Proper Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan” was in place, and all water and ice supplied to the event was from an approved source.
“It is the professional opinion of Environmental Health Unit staff, based on previous investigations of this nature, that the likely cause is from a gastrointestinal virus such as norovirus,” Coltrain said.
However, Coltrain noted the investigation was inconclusive because only one sample was available.
Coltrain emphasized that proper handwashing techniques are a key factor in preventing the spread of many diseases and viruses.
“If an individual did not properly wash their hands and then made contact…then everyone who made contact could potentially become infected,” Coltrain said.