Washington (ANTARA News) - Three staff at a Michigan restaurant who showed up to work sick with a stomach virus infected more than 360 people in the space of a few days, health officials reported on Wednesday.
The case demonstrates how easily and quickly a virus -- in this case a norovirus -- can spread and shows how standard cleaning does a poor job of eliminating viruses.
One of the workers vomited into a trash can and then continued preparing food, including an appetizer platter. Fully a third of the people who ate there became ill that day, Brenda Brennan and Susan Bohm of the Michigan Department of Health reported.
They did not identify the restaurant, which they said was in Eaton County in south-central Michigan.
"This report summarizes the findings of the outbreak investigation, which determined that at least 364 restaurant patrons had become ill," they wrote in the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention`s weekly report on death and disease.
The incident took place in January 2006. Such investigations often take months to track down and document fully.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the "stomach flu," or gastroenteritis. The CDC estimates there are 23 million acute cases of norovirus infection every year in the United States alone -- marked by nausea, diarrhea and cramps.
"Approximately 50 percent of all norovirus outbreaks are linked to ill food-service workers," the report reads.
The virus is spread by the fecal-oral route, but similar viruses can live on surfaces for as long as four weeks. Bleach will kill norovirus.
"In this outbreak, the restaurant`s use of cleaning cloths soaked with a quaternary ammonium-based cleaning product likely was ineffective in disinfecting the restaurant," the report reads.
After the outbreak, Michigan officials issued new recommendations.
They first call for exposed food and items such as paper napkins, takeout containers and straws to be discarded.
"All surface areas within at least a 25-foot (8-metre) radius of the vomiting site should be disinfected with a bleach solution," the report reads.
Sick employees should stay home for at least three days after symptoms start to get better and should not be allowed to handle kitchenware or ready-to-eat food for three more days.
Restaurants should also consider closing for a time after someone vomits and restrooms should be closed until they can be cleaned with bleach, Reuters reported.