Ben Raymond is an MS student at North Carolina State University focusing on food safety through social media, barf banter, and creating new foods. The kind that won’t make you barf.
I really hate puking; the thought makes me cringe. I may be in trouble, because not only did Ben and his family have noro, now it looks like a new(ish) variant of norovirus has hit North Carolina. Norovirus one, you zero is a website for self-declaring a virus-induced barf fest. Based on the number of reports from Raleigh, I’m doomed to add myself to this repository of misery soon. The Raleigh News and Observer reports seven confirmed cases in the area; coupled with a whole lot of unreported cases of hugging the toilet only to quickly turn and let loose from the other end. A gruesome mental image, but as anyone who has ever had the so-called stomach flu, it is nasty.
The new variant is named Sydney after the Australian city. A new variant of the genotype GII.4 the super mutating kind of norovirus, appears every few years. There are lots of different noro genotypes, but the GII.4 variant has been the main culprit for widespread outbreaks since 2001. New strains make people barf the world over and then mutate yet again to repeat it all once more.
Resistance to noro infections is not well understood, but GII.4 evolves to escape both acquired and innate immunity. In human challenge studies participants have been re-infected with the same strain, though this was using a rather large infectious dose. Most infections cause diarrhea and vomiting for an exciting 24-60 hours and then subside without the need for medical attention. However, populations such as those in nursing homes facilitate a rapid spread, and the population is more susceptible to prolonged illness with serious consequences.
Infected individuals can shed virus particles for three weeks after symptoms subside. The best defense is to wash your hands often and thoroughly. There are sanitizers on the market that will inactivate noro but that convenient alcohol goop isn’t going to cut it this time. Alcohol-based sanitizers are effective against permeating bacterial cell walls (and blowing them apart); but norovirus doesn’t have a cell wall so inactivation isn’t going to happen. Risk-reduction comes from the mechanical act of wash/rinse/dry which removes the virus from hands.
Food safety recalls in the absence of illness are an indicator the system is sorta working. They happen routinely, but in a food safety Internet culture that promotes repetition rather than analysis, the risk becomes amplified.
I do pay attention to unique vehicles. Salmonella in sprouts, happens all the time; salmonella in cucumbers, not so much.
L&M Companies Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina said Friday there have been no reports of illness with its cucumbers, and none of its other products are involved.
The company says it decided on the recall after federal inspectors found salmonella last week on cucumbers at a Florida business. They were harvested on a south Florida farm at the end of March.
The cucumbers were distributed whole and in bulk in cartons marked Nature’s Delight with a lot number of PL-RID-002990. They were sent on April 7 to wholesalers in New York, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming.
WRAL in Raleigh reported today that the Shereton Hotel (at right, exactly as shown, with ambulances taking kids away), the focus of an outbreak investigation about a month ago (150+ teenagers ill at a statewide YMCA youth leadership conference) was not likely the source of the illnesses, nor was norovirus likely the pathogen of concern.
The updated information released by Dr. Megan Davies, , state epidemiologist, was that students who ate at a banquet on Feb 12 were more than 3 times more likely to have symptoms than those who didn’t attend. Best guest of investigators conducting a follow-up study reviewing all the symptoms, is that a foodborne toxin (likely due to temperature abuse) was the likely culprit.
“The timing of the outbreak and the fact that most sick attendees had only diarrhea and not vomiting make it unlikely that norovirus was the main cause of the outbreak,” Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Still, some students might have had norovirus when they arrived at the conference in Raleigh.”
The short time between the dinner and the onset of illness makes it more likely that bacterial toxins, a common cause of food poisoning, were to blame, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting tests to pinpoint the toxin that caused the illnesses.
Convention Center Director Roger Krupa was quoted as saying "At this point, it’s hard to accept the report. All of the evidence is statistical and circumstantial. There are no lab results, no food samples, nothing factual."
Epidemiology and statistics are pretty powerful; science isn’t used to prove or disprove anything, but to provide best guesses. And the best guess in this situation, with the current info, was that the banquet facilities were the likely source.
WRAL is reporting that 5 students have been hospitalized and more than 150 students fell ill after eating a common meal on Friday February 12. All of the ill were attending a YMCA leadership event at the Raleigh Sheraton and attended a banquet at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Some attendees reported stomach discomfort, vomiting and diarrhea early Saturday morning, Perry said. As the reports increased, conference leaders called emergency personnel. Most of the sick students were isolated, treated and returned to conference activities, Perry said. By early afternoon, about 150 students had been treated. Five had to be taken to the hospital.
Students came from across the state to attend. Conference leaders called the parents of students who got sick, and some parents had started to arrive at the Sheraton by Saturday afternoon. Organizers have provided a phone line at 1-800-834-2105 for concerned parents to call for more information.
“At this time, we don’t know the cause of the illness,” said Wake County EMS Medical Director Brent Myers. “We are working with the Wake County epidemiological team to investigate the cause of this illness. It is important that parents of the young people attending the conference know that we are taking good care of everyone.”
Perry said food poisoning could be a possibility. All the students attended a banquet at the Raleigh Convention Center Friday night, he said.
Initially reported as an outbreak of foodborne illness among 30 patrons, WRAL reports tonight that up to 280 people have reported becoming ill after eating at Raleigh’s 42 St. Oyster Bar in late December. Health authorities also believe that illnesses also might not have been linked to oysters as initially reported. As Norovirus is easily transmissible and needs only a few particles to infect, it will be difficult for investigators to pinpoint the initial source. Health authorities tested eight employees for norovirus and all have been negative for the virus.
42nd Street owner Brad Hurley initially thought the culprit was oysters from Louisiana. As a precaution, the restaurant immediately stopped serving the Louisiana oysters and started using only oysters from North Carolina.
Tests of the remaining Louisiana oysters have come back negative, Andre Pierce, Wake County’s environmental health and safety director said.
The restaurant has also worked with the health department to take other precautions, such as eliminating bare hand contact with food and changing from an ammonia sanitizer to chlorine.
Pierce said they may never know the exact source.
“Norovirus is probably one of the most unreported food illnesses out there. It’s hard to detect. It’s hard to find a source. We spend a lot of time and resources trying to track it down. And it is frustrating to us and it is frustrating to the public that you can’t just put a finger on it, but it is very present and I think it’s a lot more out there than we realize.”
Public vomiting is particularly a problem as the act of spewing can cause particles to spread. Norovirus particles can also stay viable on surfaces for weeks. Pathogens can be passed on by someone even if they aren’t feeling ill. In 2008 a foodhandler who did not show symptoms or test positive for Norovirus caused an outbreak leading to over 30 illnesses. It’s believed that the foodhandler, who was caring for ill family members at home, introduced the norovirus into the kitchen by practicing poor personal hygiene.
NBC17 is reporting this afternoon that several customers have notified the 42nd Street Oyster Bar that they became ill after eating oysters at the longtime Raleigh restaurant.
Brad Hurley, a partner with 42nd Street Oyster Bar, told NBC17 that the restaurant received calls on Monday and Tuesday from customers who reported becoming sick over the weekend.
Hurley said the restaurant has pulled steamed oysters from their menus. The restaurant does have a separate batch of oysters from the North Carolina coast that is not suspected to cause illness that are still on the menu.
So far it has not been determined what is causing the reported illnesses. The restaurant is going through all equipment and working with the Wake County Health Department to determine the cause of the illnesses.
Independent Weekly is reporting that at least eight cases of foodborne illness are being investigated and that they may be linked to a common restaurant.
The illnesses, reported April 17, may be connected to Evoo, a Mediterranean restaurant in Raleigh’s Five Points.
"We are currently investigating some reports of sickness," said André Pierce, director of the environmental health and safety division of the county’s environmental services department. "The investigation is ongoing and we don’t have any results yet."
The story goes on to say that according to Walt Fuller, deputy director in charge of operations at the Raleigh-Wake 911 Center, shortly before 10 p.m the Center received an emergency call reporting that someone was ill at Evoo at 2519 Fairview Road.
One paramedic unit was dispatched at 9:50 p.m. and called for backup upon arriving at the scene, Fuller said. A second paramedic unit, a quick responder vehicle and a fire engine all responded. In all, nine rescuers attended victims at the restaurant.
It was like Spinal Tap goes to the airforce base (below).
But Ben’s dad enjoyed the talk, New messages, media, to reduce incidence of foodborne disease.
The global incidence of foodborne illness continues to rise. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30 per cent of individuals in developed countries suffer from foodborne illness each year . Current strategies for compelling individuals and organizations to practice food safety appear inadequate and are rarely evaluated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported in April 2008 that efforts to reduce foodborne illness have stalled. New messages using new media are required to create a culture that values microbiologically safe food.
Culture encompasses the shared values, mores, customary practices, inherited traditions, and prevailing habits of communities. The culture of today’s food system (including its farms, food processing facilities, domestic and international distribution channels, retail outlets, restaurants, and domestic kitchens) is saturated with information but short on behavioral-change insights. Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems, including compelling, rapid, relevant, reliable and repeated, multi-linguistic and culturally-sensitive messages.
The effectiveness of multilingual, convergent and distinctive food safety communications must be evaluated by direct observation – people lie a lot on surveys. A novel video capture system will be discussed.
The talk went well. We captured everything on video so the material will get used in about 30 places.
And after doing my usual, why are animal activists the only ones who know how to use a video camera spiel, Cargill Beef announced today it had implemented a third-party video-auditing system that will operate 24 hours a day at its U.S. beef harvesting plants to enhance the company’s animal welfare protection systems. All of Cargill’s U.S. plants are expected to have the program in place by the end of 2009.
We’ve now traveled to North Myrtle Beach for a few days of golf with a bunch of other Canadians.
And Amy appears to have some sort of foodborne illness.