Norovirus outbreak investigation in downtown Seattle building (UPDATED)

UPDATE 12/9/15

  • This morning, our food protection program staff re-inspected all of the food establishments in the building and cleared them to re-open. We are requiring the food establishments and building management to use a daily cleaning and sanitation log for the next 14 days.
  • We are not collecting more data on the magnitude of the outbreak at this point. We have no indication from building management or clients of new outbreaks in the building or spread to other locations.

UPDATE 12/8/15

  • We have received more than 200 reports of ill people from the survey we administered to people who were at the catered party. Because we have received enough responses to help us characterize the outbreak, we’ve now closed the survey, and don’t expect to be reporting further updates on the number of ill people.
  • We are working with the building management to distribute a memo to building tenants clarifying the details of this outbreak and providing actions for reducing the spread of norovirus.
  • The following food establishments in the affected building were closed Monday as a precautionary measure and remain so:
    • 2 Bon Appetite locations
      • Catering operation
      • Taste restaurant
    • Starbucks
    • 2 Chip and Drew’s locations
      • 1st floor
      • Upstairs cafe
  • Based on the numbers of ill people, the spread of the illness and the symptoms described, we believe this is a norovirus outbreak. A few people have reported being tested for norovirus by their healthcare providers, and we are following up with them to confirm lab results.
  • On Wednesday, our staff will be performing re-inspection of the food establishments in the building. If they meet all of our criteria, they’ll be allowed to re-open. As part of the process, we’re also requiring that food establishments and the building as a whole perform and document a daily cleaning and sanitation routine to prevent further illness.

UPDATE 12/7/15

  • Our investigation into the outbreak continues. We have distributed a survey to roughly 600 attendees of a catered event in the building that took place last Tuesday. This survey will help us characterize this outbreak. As of this morning, we have received more than 200 complete survey responses, and approximately 75 percent of these responses reported illness.
  • As a precautionary measure, our Food Safety Program has closed all of the food establishments in the building.
  • The building did a thorough disinfection of the facility over the weekend, and have extra staff on hand today for additional cleaning.
  • We appreciate everyone who has contacted Public Health about their illness or responded to our survey. We have received an overwhelming response and do not need any further reports at this time for the purposes of the investigation. We will be sending out a memo later today to employees who work in the building with more information about norovirus and our investigation.  If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.

POSTED 12/5/15

Public Health – Seattle & King County is in the early stages of investigating a large norovirus outbreak at an office building in downtown Seattle  (1301 2nd Avenue). While details are still being collected, early reports (which have not been verified by Public Health) suggest that several hundred people may have been impacted. There have been no reports of hospitalizations or severe illness.

norovirus
Norovirus infection, artwork (via Huffington Post)

What’s known now

The building cafeteria, which is not open to the public, was at least one place that norovirus transmission may have taken place. However, we have been made aware that people were ill in restrooms and in other parts of the building, so there is potential for infection spread from person-to-person and through contaminated objects, like doorknobs and bathroom facilities.

Public Health Environmental Health staff inspected the facility on Friday afternoon. They advised the building management how to clean and sanitize the food facilities as well as the entire building. For example, in addition to discarding food in the building’s cafeteria, and cleaning and sanitizing all food operation/sales areas, the rest of the building is also being sanitized. Door knobs, phones, handrails, elevator buttons, break areas, microwaves, supply rooms, copiers, linens, bathrooms and other similar areas will be bleach cleaned. Building management was provided with information about norovirus to share with all employees.

What is norovirus, and what’s the risk?

Norovirus is highly contagious, and produces symptoms including stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is very common, causing as many as 20 million cases of gastroenteritis in the United States each year. Most people recover within a day or two. However, dehydration can pose a more significant risk to the very young and the elderly. The best way to prevent norovirus from spreading is through thorough hand washing. Read our fact sheet at www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/communicable/diseases/NorovirusControl.aspx

Learn more about norovirus outbreaks and how to control them in this Public Health Insider blog post: Food Poisoning? Or Norovirus? 

We will post updates about this investigation as more is learned.

 

2 thoughts on “Norovirus outbreak investigation in downtown Seattle building (UPDATED)

  1. No severe illness? Seriously? How’s 24 hours of puking and other unpleasant things and a trip to the ER for 3 bags on I’ve fluids? I’m just one of several who went through this as well as my pregnant wife of 8 months. I’ll keep the company name out of this post but I’m sure it will come out.

  2. Bryan, I’m sorry to hear about your family’s distress. We are very early in this investigation and continuing to gather information. Please contact our Communicable Disease Section during business hours (Monday -Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and we can follow up with you. The number to call is 206-296-4774; more details on how to report at http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ehs/foodsafety/inspections/illness.aspx

    Best wishes for a quick recovery. –James

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