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Virus Identified as Cause
of SHSU Illness Outbreak

News release from the Texas Department of Health

An investigation by public health officials has determined that a Norwalk-like virus caused a gastrointestinal illness in as many as 125 Sam Houston State University students in Huntsville earlier this month.

The majority of the students who became ill had eaten sandwiches from an on-campus deli-bar on March 9 or 10. Most became ill within 24 to 48 hours after eating at the deli which is part of Belvin Cafeteria on the SHSU campus. All have recovered.

The investigation was conducted by the Texas Department of Health (TDH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health authorities.

After TDH laboratory tests had eliminated parasites and bacteria as possible causes of the outbreak, the Norwalk-like virus was identified in CDC tests of stool samples from those who became ill.

Health officials said experimental tests would be conducted on food samples from the deli but that the virus is difficult to identify in foods.

"We've identified the causative agent and the location associated with the illness, but we could not determine how the original contamination occurred," said David Bergmire-Sweat, A TDH epidemiologist.

He said persons who eat in the cafeteria now are not at increased risk for contracting the virus.

Norwalk-like viruses, a family of round-structures viruses, are a major cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. Gastroenteritis is an infection characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The Norwalk name is derived from the identification of the first such virus as the cause of a gastroenteritis outbreak in Norwalk, Ohio in 1968.

The virus is spread through a fecal-oral transmission route and is typically transmitted when a person eats or drinks a food or beverage contaminated with the virus. The normal incubation period, or time between exposure and the development of symptoms, is 24 to 48 hours. Viral gastroenteritis symptoms usually last for a day or two.

(For more information, contact Doug McBride, TDH Public Information Officer, Austin, at 512-458-7524.)


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
March 26, 1998

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