Norovirus outbreak detains students in Victoria
Jan 17 2012
Some of the delegates from a journalism conference in Victoria this weekend were not allowed to fly home Sunday or Monday because of a painful outbreak of norovirus that kept dozens isolated in their hotel rooms.
About 75 of the 370 university students from across the country were infected as the virus quickly spread throughout the Canadian University Press national conference at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites late Saturday.
WestJet Airlines turned at least one passenger away at Victoria International Airport because he or she was still presenting symptoms.
Other delegates called ahead to change their flight times based on advice from health officials.
Both WestJet and Air Canada waved cancellation fees for the affected students, and the hotel allowed the sick a free night's stay as they waited for the virus to pass through their system.
The first few cases began just before a banquet dinner about 5 p.m. Saturday. Within hours, some students were vomiting on buses and on the dance floor at a weekend gala at Vertigo nightclub.
Health officials sent paramedics to the hotel overnight Saturday as students isolated themselves in their rooms.
People typically contract norovirus by transfers of fecal or oral matter. The virus can live on surfaces for hours and is easily transferred via people's hands, according to the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
Students kept their spirits up during the ordeal, but many of them suffered painful symptoms, including severe stomach cramps, uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea.
Delegate Shane Fowler said he avoided the virus until he got back from a night of drinking.
He had heard that about 25 people had vomited on the bus and in the bar, but said he had no idea of the severity of the problem when he arrived back at the hotel.
Eventually, the journalist for The Aquinian newspaper at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., started to show symptoms.
"None of us heard about norovirus before this and now we are intimately familiar with it, including its exploding consequences," he said. "You don't do much more than sleep, puke and wreck toilets, and it's just rinse and repeat until it passes."
A head count of infected students stopped at about 50 after 4 a.m. Sunday.
Since then, Canadian University Press staff have received reports of more people getting sick on their way home.
"It seems that people who were feeling great got sick later on," said Emma Godmere, national bureau chief for the organization.
"A lot of CUP staff, who were patrolling through the night, have fell sick as recently as [late Sunday]. So even among our ranks, people have gotten sick."
B.C. Ambulance Service had several paramedics at the hotel overnight Saturday at the peak of the outbreak, treating the infected. Eleven people were taken to hospital, but most were treated at the hotel to avoid spreading the virus to patients with compromised immune systems.
About 15 hotel staff called in sick during a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, according to management, who said most banquet servers were the hardest hit.
WestJet reported that it flew out 30 of the delegates on Sunday and another 19 Monday. Just a dozen or so students remained in rooms overnight Monday, hotel manager Ian Jones said.