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Alaska, Wis. Outbreaks Traced

March 16, 2000

ATLANTA (AP) _ A November outbreak of food poisoning that sickened nearly 200 employees of an Alaska oil company was caused by contaminated potato salad prepared by an ill cook, according to a government study.

The Arco Alaska workers’ stomach distress was traced to Norwalk-like viral gastroenteritis, a common disease that sickens about 23 million people each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

The CDC report also linked another November outbreak, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to the same virus.

The case in Anchorage, Alaska, involved 191 employees of Arco oil who got sick after eating potato salad at a catered lunch. Health officials began investigating when Arco reported that 20 percent of its employees called in sick Nov. 10.

The food was prepared by an infected worker who mixed the potato salad with his bare hands in a 12-gallon plastic bin, the CDC said.

In Wisconsin, 19 of 36 students in the same residence hall contracted the disease after the university’s Thanksgiving break. The CDC has not found a common source for that outbreak, but reported Thursday that it was also from Norwalk-like virus, named after the Ohio town where it was first isolated.

Symptoms of the virus, including diarrhea, vomiting, fever, headache, chills and cramps, typically end in 24 to 48 hours. The virus is transmitted through food, through direct contact and by sharing linens, towels and bathrooms, said Dr. Alan Ramsey, an epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

The virus can be prevented through handwashing and general diligent cleaning.

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