A norovirus outbreak linked to a North Carolina sushi restaurant has sickened at least 241 people since late last month, local health authorities announced Thursday.
Before becoming ill, all of the victims had visited Sushi Nine in Raleigh between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, according to the Wake County Departments of Public Health and Environmental Services.
“Unfortunately, norovirus can spread very easily, especially during the winter months when people gather for gatherings and parties that include a lot of meal preparation and eating,” the health director said. Wake County Public Prosecutor Rebecca Kaufman in a statement.
Norovirus usually causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain, sometimes accompanied by dehydration or fever. The illness is often colloquially referred to as “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.” The virus is highly contagious and spreads through contaminated seafood, surfaces, water and unwashed hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mac Schreiber, the manager of Sushi Nine, told NBC News on Friday that the restaurant believes norovirus was spread by a sick customer who visited the establishment — not through sushi.
“We are convinced it wasn’t the food,” Schreiber said. “We reasonably believe that a customer with norovirus dined at the restaurant a few days ago.”
Sushi Nine voluntarily closed for a deep cleaning on Dec. 5 and reopened on Dec. 8 with no new cases, officials said.
“We continue to work closely with customers who visited Sushi Nine, restaurant staff and our partners at NCDHHS to determine the source and extent of the outbreak,” Kaufman said.
The restaurant was open on Friday. Its Facebook page advertised its cheesecake on Thursday and various rolls on Wednesday.
Schreiber said business has been down recently – and “significantly” this week. But the restaurant, located just steps from the North Carolina State University campus, appreciates the loyal customers who continue to come, he added.
“We’re near a college campus and people were graduating today, so we had parties here to celebrate graduation,” Schreiber said.
Norovirus is the most common type of foodborne illness in the United States, causing about 58% of these cases, or about 20 million illnesses per year. Most outbreaks occur between November and April.
A few norovirus particles can make someone sick, and infected people can shed billions of them, sometimes for days or weeks after they feel better. Particles can persist on surfaces for two weeks or more without proper cleaning.