Health officials are looking into a possible large outbreak of norovirus at Russell Investments Center in downtown Seattle that may involve hundreds of people.
The cafeteria inside Russell Investments Center in downtown Seattle closed Friday amid a possible outbreak of norovirus that may involve hundreds of people.
Public Health — Seattle & King County first began getting calls about illnesses Thursday afternoon, and on Friday visited the building at 1301 Second Ave. Officials are looking at the cafeteria, which closed voluntarily, as one place the virus could have spread, Public Health spokesman James Apa said. The cafeteria is not open to the public.
There have been no reports of seriously ill people or hospitalizations, he said.
Apa on Saturday said the health department had not yet performed tests to confirm norovirus as the culprit. However, the symptoms people have been experiencing — stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea — are consistent with the highly contagious viral infection, he said.
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While officials do not know the exact number of people who have fallen ill, early reports — not yet verified by Public Health — indicate it could be in the hundreds, Apa said. He said the department is in the “very early stages” of an investigation, so “while we’re hearing that it could be in the hundreds of people who became ill, we don’t know that to be true.”
Initial illness reports to Public Health included roughly 20 people who were associated with a catered event held Tuesday in the cafeteria, Apa said. However, during the visit Friday, people in the building told Public Health the problem may not be limited to those who attended the event.
“We have been made aware that people were ill in restrooms and in other parts of the building, so there is potential for infection spread from person to person and through contaminated objects, like doorknobs and bathroom facilities,” Public Health said in a blog post Saturday.
The tower remains open, but the health department has advised building management how to thoroughly clean it — including doorknobs, phones, elevator buttons, handrails and copy machines, Apa said.
“When we talked to building management, they felt they would be able to clean all the areas that could be potential transmit sites and be open on Monday,” Apa said.
Building management could not be reached Saturday.
Tenants include Russell Investments, Zillow, DocuSign and Dendreon Corp.
So far the health department has interviewed only “a few people” who became ill and will continue interviews into the coming week, Apa said.
The same kitchen that prepares food for catered events also serves the cafeteria, and staff from the restaurant Taste in the Seattle Art Museum served the catered event, Apa said.
Public Health has talked to food-service staff to have them take steps to limit the risk of transmission. Apa said that includes keeping ill workers away from work, discarding food and doing a thorough cleaning.
He said the cafeteria has an area that is self-service, which presents a higher risk for spreading the infection. Public Health has instructed cafeteria staff to stop using the self-serve area for the time being, and the cafeteria won’t reopen until the health department advises it is OK, Apa said.
People infected with norovirus are mostly likely to spread it from the moment they feel ill until at least three days after they no longer have symptoms, Public Health wrote in a blog post Friday.
Norovirus spreads through close contact with an infected person (such as sharing utensils or taking care of someone who is sick with norovirus), touching surfaces that have been contaminated with norovirus, or eating food that has been contaminated with the virus, according to the post.
Public Health said people often attribute symptoms of norovirus to food poisoning, but it is often the food handler and not the food causing the illness.
If food handlers have been sick with norovirus, they can contaminate food, especially food that is undercooked or served raw, such as produce, according to the post.