Illinois 4-H camp hit with norovirus; makes a good risk management decision

Camping wasn’t a big part of my youth. My mom’s idea of camping (or roughing it as she calls it) was a hotel that didn’t have a working air conditioner.  When I was a teenager we went camping a couple of times and rented a trailer in a campground beside Darien Lake (a Western New York amusement park). Most of my camping time was spent chasing girls around the park and riding roller coasters. I camped a few more times in high school – which really just meant underage drinking in the woods.

And it always rained. XUprZ

Since my teenage years I’ve met many people that had great experiences at the organized extension of my definition of camping – summer camp.

Looking back, I think I missed out.

We plan on sending our boys to overnight camp, likely through 4-H. Through my extension position I’ve had a chance to interact with lots of the camp organizers and I’ve been impressed with what they do for food safety and infection control: It’s not that they never have problems; it’s that they seem to know how to handle things when people get sick.

This management thing and good risk decision making was exemplified by Curt Sinclair, director of a 4-H camp in Illinois. According to The News-Gazette, Sinclair was faced with a difficult decision when a norovirus outbreak hit his camp. With 10 staff and 30 campers ill, he shut down the camp for a week, canceling a session so the site could be cleaned and sanitized and letting the virus run it’s course in the staff.

“I can’t run the camp on Sunday if they’re still contagious,” said Sinclair. “We all need to stay separate. They need to be resting back at home. To run camp would be irresponsible.”

Campers and counselors alike began showing symptoms of the virus — diarrhea, vomiting and general body achiness — early Thursday.

“From about 2 a.m. till 11 a.m. is when we were having most people ill. It ended up being about 10 staff members and then a little over 30 children,” he said.

“The CDC recommends that 48 to 72 hours after you feel better, you should refrain from working in close quarters and in food service,” he said.

“It can spread very rapidly in a group setting with a lot of people. They’re very close, playing with the same hockey sticks,” he said.

“This response to this unfortunate outbreak of a virus is going to reinforce the trust of the public in what we stand for and how we run our operation. It was the right thing to do. (It) will benefit the camp long-term more than if we had tried to wing it somehow,” Sinclair said.

Between the hockey sticks and Sinclair’s response, this sounds like a pretty good camp.
This entry was posted in Food Safety Policy, Norovirus and tagged , , , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.