Norovirus outbreak strikes the PyeongChang Winter Olympics
By Jennifer Fabiano, AccuWeather staff writer
February 19, 2018, 3:09:47 PM EST
The second week of competition at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang is underway. As gold medals are handed out, the number of norvirus cases continues to rise, including the first athletes to fall prey to the outbreak, according to Reuters.
The Swiss Olympic team confirmed that two Swiss freestyle skiers have tested positive for norovirus. The two athletes, Fabian Boesch and one who preferred not to be named yet, have been separated from the team in order to recover.
The Swiss Olympic team said that there is a potential that the athletes will still compete, as their symptoms are mostly gone.
There have 194 confirmed cases of norovirus according to the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG). Of the 194 confirmed cases, 47 patients remain in quarantine and 147 have been released.
The norovirus outbreak also affected security at the Olympics, with seven of the cases impacting security staff members, according to POCOG. A total of 97 of the cases have been at Horeb Youth Centre, a dormitory that housed many local security staff members.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach, intestines or both, according to Dr. Aron Hall, an epidemiologist in the Centers of Disease Control’s (CDC) Division of Viral Diseases. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pains.
A person will usually begin developing symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. According to Hall, most people recover from norovirus in one to three days.
Though noroviruses are most commonly spread from person to person, contaminated food is also one of the leading vehicles for spreading norovirus. Norovirus is a very highly contagious pathogen, so it takes only a few viral particles to infect someone, according to Hall.
“Anyone serving or preparing food while they’re sick has the opportunity to expose many people, and that’s very often how we see these foodborne outbreaks occur,” Hall said.
Hall mentioned the weather in PyeongChang as a risk factor for the outbreak. "Winter time is the peak of norovirus activity," Hall said. "We typically see increased numbers of hospitalizations as well as outbreaks during this time of year."
According to POCOG, five agencies are implementing measures against infectious diseases. The five include POCOG, the Korea Center for Disease Control (KCDC), the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, the Ministry of Environment and the Gangwon Province.
The POCOG has designated a supervisor for each accommodation facility to monitor the situation, including daily cleaning. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and the KCDC provided 15,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for distribution around Olympic venues.
The KCDC is encouraging people in the area to wash their hands frequently and use alternative, non-touching, greetings. Patients who tested positive for the virus are being quarantined until they test negative for norovirus.
“Special monitoring systems are in place at each source of the outbreaks, and immediate response teams are dispatched working with local Gangwon health centers to implement the surveys,” said a spokesperson from the POCOG.
Ministry of Food and Drug Safety
The Ministry of Environment and the Gangwon Province are working together to carry out a focused inspection on restaurants near competition venues, hotels and worker accommodations.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety is also strengthening the inspection of food at cafeterias with the addition of 34 total food and beverage inspectors. The agency also conducted a norovirus infection check of cooking staff in Olympic village cafeterias.
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Ministry of Environment
The Ministry of the Environment conducted repeated water quality testing. The agency conducted field inspection and evaluation of disinfection quality at all 25 dedicated water supply facilities.
PyeongChang County is in the Gangwon Province, so the local government has also contributed to provide financial support for hand sanitizer, testing equipment and sterilizing equipment. Gangwon Province is also cooperating with local public health centers within the province to monitor patients.
The province also aided in hygiene education and monitoring of 2,945 hospitality business establishments in or near the venue region.
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