Yosemite National Park says 170 people ill in possible norovirus outbreak

(Reuters) – Some 170 people who have spent time in Yosemite National Park in recent weeks have suffered from a gastrointestinal ailment “consistent with norovirus” and two have been diagnosed with the illness, park officials said on Thursday.

Most of those who became ill spent time in Yosemite Valley during or around the first week in January, park spokesman Scott Gediman said in a written statement, while the number of new cases reported has declined in the past several days.

Yosemite and national park health officials were investigating the outbreak, Gediman said, adding: “The overwhelming majority of the reported cases are consistent with norovirus.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes norovirus as a very contagious stomach illness, spread by contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces, that causes vomiting and diarrhea.

Gediman said Yosemite was undertaking “extensive cleaning and enhanced sanitation protocols” following the outbreak.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Culver City, California; editing by Richard Pullin)

Chipotle to reopen Virginia restaurant after norovirus reports

FILE PHOTO - A Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

BOSTON (Reuters) – Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc said it will reopen a Virginia restaurant on Wednesday, two days after it was closed due to reports that several customers had fallen ill with suspected norovirus.

Shares of the restaurant chain tumbled more than 4 percent on Tuesday after Chipotle reported the closure. The former high-flying chain is still fighting to repair its reputation and resuscitate its sales after a string of high-profile food safety lapses in late 2015.

Chipotle voluntarily closed the restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, on Monday, according to a health official for the Loudoun County Public Health Department, which has jurisdiction over the restaurant, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Washington.

About 13 people became sick last week, according to a website that follows incidents of foodborne illness. Test results are still pending.

Chipotle stock, which traded well above $700 prior to 2015 reports linking the chain to outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus, was off 1.4 percent at $369.56 on Wednesday.

“It is unfortunate that anyone became ill after visiting our restaurant, and when we learned of this issue, we took aggressive action to correct the problem and protect our customers,” Chipotle Chief Executive Officer Steve Ells said in a statement.

“While the restaurant was closed, multiple teams performed complete sanitization of all surfaces,” Ells said.

Norovirus, is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It can spread from person to person, as well as through food prepared by an infected person. It often hits closed environments such as daycare centers, schools and cruise ships. Most outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Chipotle shuts Virginia restaurant on norovirus worries, shares fall

Signage for a Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lisa Baertlein

(Reuters) – Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc <CMG.N> closed a restaurant in Virginia because of a suspected norovirus outbreak among some diners that sent its shares lower on Tuesday as the chain works to bounce back from past food-safety lapses.

Investors are keenly sensitive to reports of illness linked to Chipotle, which endured a string of sales-crushing E. coli, salmonella and norovirus outbreaks in late 2015.

Chipotle’s stock closed down 4.3 percent, or $17.02, at $374.98 on Tuesday after falling as low as $362.40. The shares were trading at nearly $750 before the company’s previous food-safety incidents, which battered the chain’s profits and reputation.

Chipotle said on Tuesday the reported symptoms were consistent with norovirus, a highly contagious virus that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea.

“Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle,” Jim Marsden, Chipotle’s executive director for food safety, said in an emailed statement.

Chipotle’s plan to reopen the store on Tuesday had been delayed, spokesman Chris Arnold said. He did not immediately say when the restaurant would reopen.

The suspected illnesses were first reported by Business Insider earlier on Tuesday. It cited information from iwaspoisoned.com, a website on which consumers document what they believe are incidents of foodborne illness.

“In total, eight reports were made to the website, indicating that at least 13 customers fell sick after eating there from July 14-15,” the news site said.

Chipotle voluntarily closed the restaurant on Monday, said Victor Avitto, environmental health supervisor for the Loudoun County Public Health Department, which has jurisdiction over the restaurant on Tripleseven Road in Sterling, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Washington.

Test results are expected later this week, Avitto said.

Norovirus, known as the “winter vomiting bug,” is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can spread from person to person, as well as through food prepared by an infected person. It often hits closed environments such as daycare centers, schools and cruise ships. Most outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.

Chipotle will report second-quarter results on July 25.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Boston; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney)

Quarter of passengers on British cruise ship fall sick with norovirus

File photo of the cruise ship Balmoral prior to boarding of passengers going on the Titanic Memorial Cruise in Southampton

(Reuters) – A stomach bug causing vomiting and diarrhea has spread to more than a quarter of the 919 passengers aboard a British cruise ship, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said, as the ship docked in Maine over the weekend.

It also said eight of the 520 crew on the Balmoral, operated by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, had also fallen ill with the bug, identified as a norovirus.

The Balmoral left Southampton, England on April 16 for a 34-day cruise, making stops in Portugal and Bermuda before putting in at Norfolk, Virginia, where it first arrived in the United States late last month.

CDC officials said at that time that 153 passengers and six crew had been infected by norovirus. Health officials and an epidemiologist boarded the ship at its next stop in Baltimore, Maryland to assess the outbreak and the response.

The CDC said specimens collected and onboard tested positive for norovirus, and would be sent to CDC for additional testing.

Fred. Olsen said in an April 29 statement that a “gastro-enteritis type illness” had affected a number of guests, with seven cases in isolation at that point.

It said two U.S. nationals were on board, with the majority of passengers from the United Kingdom.

When the Balmoral docked at Portland, Maine, over the weekend, media reported witnesses seeing surfaces being constantly wiped down.

The ship was due to stop at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on Monday.

CDC said the cruise line had taken actions in response to the outbreak, including increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures, collecting stool specimens, daily reporting of illness and dispatching public health and sanitation managers to oversee and assist with implementation of sanitation and outbreak response.

Balmoral has capacity for 1,350 passengers, and is the largest and newest ship in the cruise line’s fleet.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Chipotle E. Coli outbreaks appear to be over, CDC says

Two E. Coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle restaurants appear to be over, officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it still doesn’t know what specific ingredient was behind the outbreaks, though it hasn’t received word of any illnesses since Dec. 1.

The CDC said 60 people in 14 states fell ill last October and November, and 22 were hospitalized. The organization interviewed 59 of those people, and 52 of them said they had eaten at Chipotle.

The CDC collected food from several Chipotle restaurants, though none of its tests showed signs of the bacteria. The organization said a food source is only identified in 46 percent of outbreaks, and it can be hard to determine the exact item responsible for the illnesses in cases where restaurants cook several ingredients together and serve them in different menu items.

According to the CDC, the first E. Coli outbreak affected 55 people in Washington, Oregon, California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York Ohio and Pennsylvania. The second outbreak, which featured a different strain of the bacteria, sickened five people in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota. None of the 60 people died or developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure that sometimes occurs following E. Coli infections.

Chipotle has said it has since implemented new food safety protocols, and announced earlier this month that it will close all of its restaurants for four hours on Feb. 8 for a food safety meeting.

The outbreaks were just a part of the recent struggles for Chipotle.

The restaurant also told investors earlier this month that it was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with an “isolated norovirus incident” in August at a California restaurant. The same message indicated a norovirus outbreak in December at a Boston restaurant “worsened the adverse financial and operating impacts” Chipotle experienced from the E. Coli outbreaks.

Norovirus and E. Coli are both foodborne illnesses that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, according to the CDC.

Chipotle’s stock was trading at $750.42 on Oct. 13, near an all-time high, but tumbled to $404.26 on Jan. 12 amid the E. Coli and norovirus concerns. That was a 54 percent drop.

The stock has rebounded slightly and was trading at $472.64 on Monday afternoon.

Chipotle hit with federal subpoena over California norovirus outbreak

(Reuters) – Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc <CMG.N>, under scrutiny for months over outbreaks of foodborne illness across several U.S. states, said on Wednesday it was served with a subpoena in a federal criminal probe linked to a norovirus case in California last year.

Shares of the burrito chain fell more than 5 percent to $424.95, their lowest in more than two years, as the Denver-based company grapples with a wave of norovirus and E. coli outbreaks that have sickened customers and battered sales.

The company in a filing also projected a 14.6 percent plunge in fourth-quarter same-store sales, compared with a previously estimated 8-11 percent drop, which would be the first such decline in the company’s history.

Chipotle said it received the subpoena as a part of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration. A federal grand jury will decide whether to press charges in the case.

Norovirus is the leading cause of food-related illnesses and outbreaks in the United States, often occurring when infected restaurant employees and food workers touch raw ingredients before serving. The highly contagious virus can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

The investigation announced on Wednesday is the latest headache for the company, which has seen sales slump after an E. coli outbreak sickened more than 50 people in nine states in October and November.

That outbreak was followed by a norovirus incident at a restaurant in Brighton, Massachusetts the week of Dec. 7, in which 120 Boston College students fell ill.


Chipotle said the subpoena was served in December. It requires the company to produce a broad range of documents related to the August norovirus incident at its restaurant in Simi Valley, California, which sickened more than 200 people, including 18 workers.

In September, two California residents sued Chipotle for damages in U.S. court after they said they became sick from eating at the Simi Valley location.

Alyssa McDonald vomited repeatedly, developed “explosive diarrhea,” and suffered chest pains after eating at restaurant, according to court documents. Another customer said she had to go to a hospital emergency room for days.

The Ventura County Health Department found her stool tested positive for norovirus, the lawsuit said.

Ventura County health official Doug Beach said his office was interviewed by the FDA and U.S. Attorney’s office in the fall. Authorities, he said, focused their lines of enquiry squarely on Chipotle.

A federal investigation into a one-restaurant outbreak is surprising since there wasn’t a clear interstate element, said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer who is representing customers saying they were sickened in Simi Valley.

The FDA declined to comment specifically on the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment, as did Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold.

Chipotle said same-store sales were trending down 16 percent at the onset of December but fell 34 percent after the Brighton incident and the subsequent national media attention it garnered.

Overall same-restaurant sales for December were down 30 percent, the company said.

Any more incremental bad news, particularly if there is an unfavorable decision from the grand jury, could trigger consideration among shareholders of a management change, Maxim Group analyst Stephen Anderson said.

The company, which also announced a $300 million share buyback, said it will fully cooperate with the probe.

The company’s shares have fallen nearly 30 percent since Oct. 31, when the first E. coli outbreak was reported.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Sarah N. Lynch in Washington, and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Don Sebastian and Meredith Mazzilli)

California, Minnesota Health Officials Warn of Norovirus Outbreaks

Public health officials in California and Minnesota are warning about norovirus outbreaks, cautioning that the intestinal disease could sicken lots of people in those states this winter.

The California Department of Public Health announced last week that there had been 32 confirmed outbreaks of the disease since October, a number that greatly exceeds the total reported in the same window last year. Hundreds likely fell ill from the disease, officials said.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Health cautioned that the arrival of a new strain of the disease could cause some additional norovirus illnesses this winter. The department said it has investigated at least 20 outbreaks of the GII.17 Kawasaki strain since September. The strain is the same one that spurred many outbreaks in Asia last winter, officials said in a news release.

“Every few years, a new strain of norovirus emerges and causes many illnesses,” Amy Saupe, a foodborne disease epidemiologist with the department, said in a statement. “We don’t know yet if this new strain will lead to an increase in the number of outbreaks reported, but it could.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is the top cause of stomach flu in the United States. The highly contagious virus sickens between 19 million and 21 million people, hospitalizes 56,000 to 71,000 and kills between 570 and 800 every year. Common symptoms include fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover within 1 to 3 days.

People get norovirus from eating tainted food or touching contaminated surfaces, making it relatively easy for the disease to spread in places like schools, daycares and nursing homes.

The Boston Globe reported a sick employee came to a Chipotle restaurant in the city earlier this month and 136 people — including some Boston College students — fell ill. There were some initial fears that outbreak was linked to an E. Coli outbreak at Chipotle restaurants in nine states, but the paper reported health officials ultimately determined that norovirus was at fault.

The CDC and other public health officials say proper disinfection, hand hygiene and food-handling techniques are vitally important to help prevent norovirus from spreading.

“One of the most important things you can do to avoid norovirus and other illnesses this holiday season is to wash your hands frequently with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds,” Dr. Karen Smith, the director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “This is especially important after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food. Hand sanitizers are not effective against norovirus.”

Norovirus Outbreak Sickens 200 in Seattle

About a third of the 600 people who went to a catered event last week in a Seattle office building indicated they came down with norovirus, according to multiple published reports.

The Seattle Times reported that about 200 people who attended the party last Tuesday at Russell Investments Center in the city’s downtown area fell ill. A public health official told the newspaper that eight people were treated in emergency rooms and two were hospitalized.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highly contagious norovirus is the top cause of foodborne-illness outbreaks in the United States, sickening 19-21 million people, hospitalizing 56,000-71,000 and killing 570-800 annually. The virus, which affects the stomach and intestines, causes stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. It’s acquired by eating tainted food or water, touching contaminated surfaces or interpersonally.

Al Jazeera reported crews worked to decontaminate the building over weekend and that food service remains closed by order of the health department. The news agency reported authorities were still trying to determine what exactly caused the outbreak, as a few cases of the illness had been reported before Tuesday’s party. The CDC said that norovirus can spread rapidly in closed environments, and this time of the year is generally when most United States outbreaks occur.

The CDC recommends washing hands, properly preparing food like fruit, vegetables and seafood and disinfecting any contaminated surfaces as three ways to combat the spread of norovirus.

New Variant of Norovirus Overtaking Other Viruses in Europe

A variant of the norovirus discovered last year in 2012 in Australia has spread to the level it is prepared to overtake all other noroviruses in Europe.

The variant, Sydney 2012, has been identified by genetic testing in England as causing more cases of “winter vomiting disease” than any other virus. The virus causes violent and projectile vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, headaches and stomach cramps. Continue reading