Norovirus Strikes 100 Guests, Employees at Dulles Hotel

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 2007

About 100 guests and employees at a Hilton hotel near Dulles International Airport have been sickened by the highly contagious norovirus, forcing the hotel to stop taking reservations as it sanitizes the building, authorities said last night.

By yesterday, dozens of guests had accepted offers to move to hotels in the area, although others remained at the Hilton Washington Dulles Hotel. Late last night, the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed that the sickness was caused by norovirus, sometimes called "the cruise ship illness" because of outbreaks in recent years.

The Herndon area hotel said that on Tuesday night, some guests began complaining of gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

"Our immediate response to isolating this situation was to contact the Fairfax County Health Department," Jim Cree, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, said in a letter to guests yesterday. "We are concerned with the well-being of those who have been affected by this."

The Health Department examined different areas of the hotel, interviewed ailing guests and workers and took stool samples to the state lab, said county Health Department spokeswoman Kimberly Cordero.

Cordero said health workers were trying to pinpoint the origin of the outbreak. She said it could have come from one person mingling with others or from an infected worker touching food.

"If someone is ill with the virus, preparing food, a cook or waitstaff, they can spread it," said Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department's Northern Virginia region. She added that the hotel has been "very cooperative."

Caldwell added that symptoms of norovirus typically last about two days. But she said infected people can remain contagious even when they feel better.

Caldwell said health officials have seen several outbreaks of the virus in Northern Virginia in the past year.

"It's not uncommon," she said, adding that such facilities as nursing homes, dormitories and hotels are particularly susceptible.

Norovirus is named after Norwalk, Ohio, where it sickened numerous elementary school students in 1968. In November, it sickened more than 300 people on a Miami-based cruise liner. Last month, the virus laid low scores of students at Catholic University.

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