Church praised for Norovirus outbreak response

Published 10:43 am Thursday, September 8, 2016

It could have happened anywhere.

But Davie Health Director Suzanne Wright credits Mocksville First United Methodist for doing all the right things after some 50 people got sick from the Norovirus after eating a Wednesday night meal there on Aug. 24.

“This sickness could have started anywhere,” Wright said. “Could something like this happen at a high school sporting event? Yes. Could you pick up a virus like this at the grocery store? Yes.  Could you get this virus from eating in a restaurant?  Yes.  Could you share this virus in your own kitchen?  Yes.”

Norovirus is common and people often hear about it when there’s an outbreak on a cruise ship, she said. The symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain and sometimes headache, fever and body aches occur.  In some cases, people can become dehydrated, especially children, older adults and those with other illnesses.

People become infected after ingesting Norovirus. There are several ways this can happen:

• eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus;

• touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth; or

• having contact with someone who is infected with norovirus (for example, caring for or sharing food or eating utensils with someone with norovirus illness).

On Sunday night, Aug. 28, members of the health department’s clinical team were contacted about an illness that occurred after a Wednesday night service/meal. Initial reports indicated that about 50 people became sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea within one to two days after participating in the meal.  By Monday morning, the health department received notification that two of the reported sick had been admitted to a hospital, and there had been a lab confirmation of norovirus.

That put the health department investigation on hold. Knowing that the sickness was not caused by bacteria like salmonella, ecoli, shigella or campylobacter, the investigation stopped (per NC Department of Health and Human Services guidance), but education and prevention measures continued to be shared with those exposed to the virus, Wright said.

“The church should be commended for its rapid response.  Church leaders contacted the health department, notified church members of the issue and steps for prevention, and scheduled a time for environmental health staff to direct them in disinfection and proper food handling processes.

“The church took immediate action, closing its fellowship area for cleaning and not allowing additional meals to be provided to members and the community. Those actions likely saved many others from becoming sick.

“Knowing how thorough the response was, I would have no problem eating dinner there this Wednesday – or any time for that matter,” she said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the health department received reports that an individual -who had become sick after eating at the church dinner – had displayed symptoms while attending lunch at Davie Senior Services Bobby Knight Center.  In an attempt to protect a highly-susceptible population and prevent further exposure to and spread of Norovirus, a decision was made to close the senior center for thorough cleaning/disinfection. At no time was the food at the center a concern; it was exposure to others who had been sick with the virus that prompted a response.

“Like the church, the senior center has taken every precaution and there should be no concern over visiting the Center, participating in food service programs, or scheduling events there,” Wright said.