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YMCA Youth Conference Illness Update

NC Public Health Report

Release Date: March 23, 2010
Contact: Renee McCoy and Mark Van Sciver , 919-733-9190

RALEIGH – State Public Health investigators have determined the recent illness that sickened teenagers at a conference in Raleigh in February was caused by exposure to contaminated food at a banquet dinner.

The findings are based on an intensive investigation by county and state public health officials. This included a survey completed by more than half of the conference attendees, which found that those who ate at the Friday night banquet on Feb. 12 were almost three times more likely to get sick compared to those who did not. No other meals were associated with illness.  See the full Epidemiology report (updated 4-7-2010).

The exact pathogen that caused the outbreak is still not known. Most of the illnesses started early Saturday morning; the short time between the dinner and the onset of illness fits best with illness caused by bacterial toxins, a common cause of food poisoning. Samples have been sent to CDC to test for these toxins.

Laboratory tests done early in the outbreak were positive for norovirus, a highly contagious virus which has been prevalent across the state. However, later tests could not confirm these results. “The timing of the outbreak and the fact that most sick attendees had only diarrhea and not vomiting make it unlikely that norovirus was the main cause of the outbreak,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said. “Still, some students might have had norovirus when they arrived at the conference in Raleigh.”

Although noroviruses were not the main cause of this outbreak, these viruses continue to circulate in North Carolina and cause similar illnesses. Consistently following these simple measures will reduce the risk of getting norovirus or spreading it to others:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water
  • Clean up vomit and diarrhea
  • Stay home when sick
  • Do not prepare food when sick and for at least 48 hours afterward.

Bacterial toxins typically cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, or vomiting within a few hours of eating contaminated food.  The keys to preventing foodborne illness caused by these toxins are:

  • Thoroughly wash raw ingredients to reduce bacteria on the food;
  • Keep cooked food separate from raw, uncooked food;
  • Thoroughly cook meat and poultry;
  • Keep cooked foods at safe temperatures after cooking.  Either hold food hot after cooking or rapidly chill it.



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