Nearly 200 people who attended a catered party at a downtown Seattle office building have become ill with norovirus. Public health officials closed all the food service locations inside the Russell Investments Center in downtown Seattle, including a Starbucks location, says Dr. Meagan Kay, a medical epidemiologist for the public health department.
Norovirus can spread by an infected person, contaminated food, water, or contaminated surfaces, says the CDC.
Nearly 200 people out of roughly 600 people who attended the party catered by California-based Bon Appetit Management Co. on December 1 reported some level of sickness, says Dr. Kay. That number is likely to go up as the investigation continues into the cause of the outbreak, she says.
“The source of this illness remains unclear, and we are as eager as anyone to learn precisely how and when it began,” says the catering company. “We have worked with our food safety experts to disinfect the surfaces in our facility and have taken all other necessary steps to ensure food safety.”
Two people have been hospitalized overnight and eight people visited an emergency room for their illness, though the conditions of the patients were not known, says Dr. Kay. She also comments that over the weekend, the building was disinfected in part to address vomiting in restrooms and to clean doorknobs and other surfaces.
The virus causes the stomach or intestines or both to become inflamed with acute gastroenteritis, which leads to stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea, according to the CDC. It is the most common cause of foodborne disease outbreaks and acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., causing some 19 million to 21 million illnesses and 570 to 800 deaths annually, says the organization.