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SLO County Norovirus Outbreak

Posted in Our Blog on June 7, 2023

Norovirus, also known to most people as a “stomach bug” or “stomach flu” is a foodborne illness. Nearly 100 people (at last reported count) have been sickened in San Luis Obispo County this month. The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department indicates that a local restaurant is the likely source, but after combing the internet and health department websites for the information, they continue to withhold the name of the restaurant. Here is what we know about the SLO County Norovirus Outbreak:


The Outbreak


According to SLO County Public Health Epidemiologist Jessie Burmester, 97 people have been reported sick in association with this confirmed Norovirus outbreak earlier this month.


Burmester indicated that the department traced the “unusual, very large community outbreak” to a North County restaurant, though she was unwilling to disclose the name of said business.


Common Source

As part of the outbreak investigation, patients are interviewed about where they ate prior to falling ill. This helps investigators narrow down the scope of the investigation.


“When we perform our investigations, we’re really looking for a common source or exposure point,” she said. Individuals have provided the name of the restaurant consistently for all of the individuals that have reported on behalf of the 97 people so far.”


What Makes an Outbreak?

An outbreak is defined as an illness with a common source between two or more individuals. The SLO Health department also includes the caveat that it must also be from two or more households.


According to Burmester, the department reached that threshold to label this event as an “outbreak” on May 15, 2023.


The Investigation

According to the epidemiologist, the agency received more than two reports indicating the same exposure source. This prompted an investigation.


After following up, she indicated that there were more people reporting to experience symptoms of norovirus linked to this facility as early as May 11, 2023.


The Clean Up

After a source was identified, the Public Health Department began working with this unnamed restaurant to help eliminate that contamination in an attempt to prevent the spread of this virus.


The Department pushed “mass cleaning and disinfection” as a mitigating action and continued to track where the reported cases originated.


The restaurant has since been cleaned at least three times since the outbreak was first reported, says Burmester. “This has been [a] particularly challenging outbreak, Burmester said, “but it is not abnormal to see norovirus spread like this, because it doesn’t take much of the virus to spread at all.”


What is Norovirus?


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Norovirus is the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea, and foodborne illness in the United States.”


There are about 2,500 norovirus outbreaks each year, says Burmester. This impacts between 18 million and 21 million Americans annually.


How is it Spread?

Norovirus is spread via fecal-oral route. And that is exactly what it sounds like. People become ill when contaminated poop is consumed. Sadly, it only takes a microscopic amount of the virus to cause illness. An infectious dose is not even visible to the naked eye.


The virus is spread when an infected person does not effectively wash their hands after using the bathroom. When the contaminated hands come in contact with food or common touch surfaces, and another person touches it and then eats or puts their hands near their mouth, the virus spreads.



The most common symptoms of Norovirus infection include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain


Other symptoms may include fever, headache, or body aches.


Symptoms often develop within 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to the virus. While most people will feel better within 1 to 3 days after becoming ill, they may continue to spread the virus for several more days.


Dehydration is a common concern when it comes to Norovirus. The nature of the Norovirus symptoms dehydrates the body. This is especially common in young children, older adults, and those already fighting other illnesses.


Dehydration symptoms include:

  • Decreased urination
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Dizziness when standing up
  • Children crying with few or no tears and unusually sleepy or fussy.


Acute Gastroenteritis

In some cases, Norovirus causes a severe symptom known as acute gastroenteritis. This occurs when the virus causes inflammation in the lining of the stomach or intestines.


As the virus runs its course, this inflammation should settle as well.


The Investigation Continues


The SLO Public Health Department is also tracking a “handful of other suspected potential norovirus outbreaks” as this investigation continues. According to the source, no others have been confirmed at this time.


Perhaps that is why the Department is reluctant to release the identity of the indicated restaurant at this time, however it seems a terrible response when so many have fallen ill.


What Should I Do If I Have Norovirus


Those who have fallen ill with Norovirus are encouraged to stay home from school or work and hydrate.


Run Its Course

There is no cure for Norovirus, and antibiotics do not treat the illness because it is a virus and not a bacteria. Most people will feel better after a few days. People generally treat the symptoms to help themselves feel better; however as a rule of thumb, medication to stop diarrhea is not recommended. Constipating the digestive system may keep the virus in your body longer.


Wash Hands

Burmester and the CDC reminds folks to thoroughly wash their hands. Hand washing and disinfecting is the only way to help reduce the spread of the virus.


Use warm, soapy water and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.


Make a List

If you have fallen ill with Norovirus, making a list of where and what you have eaten recently can help investigators trace back your illness to a potential source. When common foods or places are indicated, activities to stop the spread of the illness can take place.


Reach Out to a Food Poisoning Lawyer

If you have fallen ill and your life has been impacted by this outbreak, a food poisoning lawyer can help hold those responsible for your illness accountable. If you have questions, the experienced Norovirus Lawyers of The Lange Law Firm can help answer them. Call (833) 330-3663 or email here for a free consultation.

By: Heather Van Tassell