A norovirus outbreak at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, KS has sickened 600 people, according to the Kansas Department of Health. The outbreak occurred between Friday, January 15 and Tuesday, January 19, 2016.
Health department officials are working with the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) to investigate the outbreak. On Friday, January 29, health officials spent time training the staff about food safety, overseeing cleanup and observing food safety practices. The restaurant later hired a private firm to clean the entire facility with an “EPA-registered disinfectant, which kills norovirus and is safe for food establishments,” according to the health department.
Spread through person-to-person contact, by consuming contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, norovirus is highly contagious and hard to kill. It can survive of on countertops or utensils for up to two weeks and resist many common disinfectants and hand sanitizers. It can also remain on foods at temperatures below freezing and above 140°F.
And it takes just a small amount of the virus to make someone sick. The amount of virus that fits on the head of pin, as few as 18 particles, is enough to make 1,000 people sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has compiled a norovirus fact sheet with the following information.
Norovirus is sickens about 20 million Americans each year. Most of those illnesses occur between November and February. Most outbreaks, about 65 percent, happen at restaurants and originate from an infected food worker. The best way to prevent transmission is by washing hands properly.
Symptoms of norovirus, which usually develop 12 to 48 hours after exposure, are vomiting and diarrhea. When someone is sick, they can shed billions of viral particles in their stool and vomit. The virus is easily transmitted in shared spaces that are not carefully and thoroughly cleaned. A person with norovirus is most contagious while experiencing symptoms but may also infect others before symptoms start and after they resolve which is why public health workers urge sick restaurant employees to stay home if they are sick, especially with a diarrheal or vomiting illness.