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Gaylord Conference-Goers Exposed to Norovirus

More Than 60 Attendees at Pr. George's Medical Convention and Two Hotel Employees Fall Ill

The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George's County, a new addition to the Gaylord Hotels chain in D.C., boasts an 18-story glass atrium, multi-level indoor gardens, and a rooftop lounge.
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By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

More than 60 people who became ill this week after attending a medical conference at the just-opened Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill were exposed to the norovirus, Prince George's County health officials said yesterday.

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Prince George's Health Officer Donald Shell said 14 people, who were preparing to board flights at Reagan National Airport, were treated Thursday evening after complaints of feeling nauseated. Seven passengers suffering from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea were taken to area hospitals; seven others were evaluated and treated on scene.

Additional people at Gaylord later complained of nausea, Shell said, and investigators called conventioneers who had gone home after the conference and learned that they, too, had fallen ill.

The outbreak poses a public relations challenge for Gaylord National, the lavish 2,000-room resort on the banks of the Potomac River that opened Tuesday.

Amie Gorrell, a spokeswoman for Gaylord, said Shell told hotel officials yesterday afternoon that the sickness was not food poisoning or related to an environmental problem but was a virus.

Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach and the intestines, resulting in nausea, vomiting and occasionally diarrhea and abdominal cramps, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symptoms can last a couple of days and generally manifest themselves a day or two after a person comes in contact with the virus, which has been found on cruise ships and in nursing homes. People are exposed to the virus by consuming contaminated food or liquids, touching tainted objects or making direct contact with an infected person.

"It's that old tried and true, touching someone after not washing your hands," Shell said. "And at conventions, that's what you do, a lot of shaking hands."

Gorrell, who spent much of yesterday fielding questions about the illness, said it appears to be an "isolated incident." She said the resort, with more than a couple of thousand guests and employees this week, is cooperating with the investigation.

Shell said that the exposure to the virus probably occurred Tuesday or Wednesday and that people began showing signs Thursday morning and evening.

The Arlington County health department collected stool samples from 13 conventioneers who went to hospitals in Virginia.

Reuben K. Varghese, Arlington's public health director, said he and his staff went to National Airport on Thursday evening after learning of the illnesses "to see if there was a common exposure at the airport." After speaking to passengers, Varghese said, the investigators determined there was no common exposure at the airport.

Health officials said not all people who got sick were overnight guests at Gaylord. Shell said some stayed at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, the St. Regis and Hotel Monaco, all in the District.

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