Contagious norovirus distresses wedding guests

Posted Oct. 22, 2009, at 8:06 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Dozens of guests at a recent wedding reception at a local event center fell ill shortly afterward, and the state says a common gastrointestinal virus is to blame.

According to a report released this week by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 44 of the 98 wedding guests suffered nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after the wedding and reception on Oct. 4 at the Spectacular Event Center. Three people were sick enough to visit a hospital emergency room but were not admitted.

Four guests told the state they had been ill before and on the day of the reception. Not all guests were available to be interviewed for the state’s investigation.

The state report identifies norovirus, a common and highly contagious organism, as having caused the outbreak. The virus typically is spread by fecal contamination of foods or environmental surfaces, but also may spread directly between people in close contact.

A state inspection of the Spectacular Event Center identified some violations of state food preparation codes, but did not find the organism in any of 14 foods tested that had been served at the reception.

Jane Arey, the event center’s owner, said Thursday that the chances are “none” that the contamination originated in the facility’s kitchen.

“I had staff that ate the food and didn’t get sick,” she said, and the one worker who became ill had not eaten.

State epidemiologist Dr. Andrew Pelletier said that norovirus not infrequently causes “explosive outbreaks” in nursing homes and other residential environments and is notorious for causing rapid and widespread illness on cruise ships.

“Symptoms typically last 24 to 48 hours,” Pelletier said, “but people will be quite uncomfortable during that time.”

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