Health officials closed all food vendors at downtown Seattle’s Russell Investments Center while they investigate a norovirus outbreak that has already sickened about 200 people.
Health officials have closed all food vendors in a downtown Seattle tower as they continue to investigate an outbreak of norovirus that reportedly has sickened about 200 people — with more cases likely to be reported.
Of 600 people who attended a catered event Tuesday at the Russell Investments Center, 1301 Second Ave., 200 so far have completed a survey — with 150 reporting symptoms of the highly contagious germ, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County. An additional 50 cases were reported directly to the agency.
“We anticipate that that number is likely low,” said Dr. Meagan Kay, a medical epidemiologist in the health department’s communicable-disease section.
Two people have been hospitalized and eight required emergency-room attention, Kay added.
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The building houses several high-profile tenants including Zillow — and Marler Clark, the Seattle food-safety law firm. The building remained open but underwent a top-to-bottom cleaning over the weekend to eradicate the germ.
“Norovirus is really super tough,” said Bill Marler, who regularly represents clients sickened by the bug that causes acute vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal distress.
No one is sick in his office, Marler said. He noted that winter is prime time for norovirus infections and that they’re probably far more common than anyone thinks.
Initial reports to Public Health — Seattle & King County indicated that about 20 people fell ill after the event held Dec. 1 in the Russell Investments cafeteria. But interviews suggest that some people were ill before that event, described as a farewell party for a tenant leaving the building, health officials said. The close gathering may have been the ideal environment for norovirus to spread.
The event was catered by Bon Appetit Management Co., a Palo Alto, Calif., firm that supplies restaurant services in 33 states. The operation at the Russell Investments Center was shuttered, but services at other sites in Seattle and elsewhere remain open. No food-service employees working at the Russell site work at other venues, health officials said.
This outbreak does not appear to be related to the closure of a nearby restaurant, Main Street Gyros, last week, officials said.
Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. It’s typically spread on the (unwashed) hands of food-service workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus spreads easily, often carried in the air after projectile vomiting or lingering on surfaces where it infects the next victim.
Foodborne norovirus accounts for about a quarter of the 20 million annual cases linked to the bug, which is actually a group of viruses that cause acute gastrointestinal problems, the CDC says.
Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent norovirus infections, health officials emphasize. Wash hands frequently in hot, soapy water and disinfect surfaces regularly, including high-touch areas like doorknobs, elevator buttons, telephones and other objects.