Travelers Feel Ill After National Harbor Convention

By Susan Levine and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 4, 2008; 11:27 AM

As many as 20 travelers at Reagan National Airport reported feeling sick last night as they arrived for departing flights, and officials are unsure what might have caused their nausea.

The travelers were leaving the area after attending a medical conference at the just-opened Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, part of the mammoth National Harbor project in Prince George's County.

Officials are investigating whether any food or environmental problems at the convention center could have caused the illness, but a county health official said indications so far are that it is more likely that those who felt ill were infected by a virus. No airport employees or other individuals at National reported similar symptoms.

Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said the authority's fire department began getting calls from "various locations" at the airport shortly after 5 p.m. Seven people were taken to hospitals with conditions not considered life-threatening; seven others were evaluated and treated on site.

The 14 passengers who received treatment apparently were among as many as 20 people who reported feeling nauseated as early as yesterday morning. All had been attending a medical meeting that drew hundreds of people, officials said.

Prince George's County Health Officer Donald Shell said early today that he and other officials suspect a norovirus, passed among the group, was to blame.

"It's not pointing to a food source at the hotel," Shell said. Health authorities checked equipment temperatures at the resort and looked at the menus served this week. "Everything seems to have been done appropriately." he said.

Health officials from Prince George's and Arlington counties said they plan to follow up on the patients.

Amie Gorrell, a spokeswoman for Gaylord, said the sick passengers attended a professional medical conference at the new resort this week. She said airport officials notified the hotel last night about the passengers' illness, and the hotel is fully cooperating with health officials as they continue their investigation.

"It has not been confirmed that the illness is associated with our facility or any of the events that were held here," Gorrell said.

With more than a couple thousand guests and employees at the resort this week, she added, it appears as though the illnesses are an "isolated incident."

Gaylord, the largest combined hotel and convention center on the East Coast, opened its doors this week.

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