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Norovirus hits 30 at student conference in downtown hotel

Jan 15 2012
About 30 students attending a journalism conference at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites became sick with norovirus on Saturday night. 

About 30 students attending a journalism conference at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites became sick with norovirus on Saturday night.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, timescolonist.com

A norovirus outbreak at a downtown Victoria hotel interrupted the tail end of a national conference of university journalism students Saturday night.

About 30 people are reported to have contracted the potentially painful virus, according to the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The 370 delegates from the Canadian University Press national conference had been staying at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites since Wednesday. Late Saturday, several students called paramedics because of their illnesses, which included severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

B.C. Ambulance Service had several paramedics at the hotel overnight as students were advised to stay in their rooms in isolation to wait out the virus. Hotel staff have intensified cleaning to help stamp out any further spread.

Students and university press staff communicated through Twitter with the hashtag #nash74, which was trending quite quickly on Sunday.

"Just heard that Gatorade, Tylenol and Gravol are all on their way. I'd kill for all those things right now," wrote Erin Epp.

VIHA suggests healthy people leave the hotel while the sick stay in their rooms and stay hydrated.

Many of the comments from delegates praised university press staff for keeping everyone informed throughout the night about the outbreak.

"Kudos to @CUPnash and the Harbour hotel staff for being so great at keeping us informed and helping us get healthy," Katherine DeClerq posted.

Hotel manager Ian Jones said he has never seen anything like a norovirus outbreak at a hotel before. He has worked with health officials to ensure that guests are taken care of and that healthy guests stay that way.

"They have all been in their rooms sleeping it off," he said. "We have cleaning staff wearing gloves and being very diligent with cleaning the sheets and ensuring the rooms are completely clean so this doesn't go any further."

Norovirus can be fairly common in the winter months when people have their windows closed and spend more time indoors. The virus is quite common in North America and is very infectious.

People typically contract it by fecal or oral transfers. Symptoms can last as long as three days.

VIHA health protection inspectors have been on site trying to identify the source of the outbreak. Jones said the group went out to eat dinner and started getting sick late Saturday. A spokeswoman for VIHA said they have ruled out food poisoning.

"They're trying to find a common source for this," said Suzanne Germain, communication officer with VIHA. "There is no evidence this is food poisoning; in fact we're sure it's not."

Many of the infected kept their humour throughout the ordeal. One person hung a sign out the window that read: "Send help." Students tweeted about the sign appearing on television news.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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