By: Candess Zona-Mendola

Nineteen confirmed illnesses of Norovirus infection have been linked to a Weston, Wisconsin Jimmy John’s restaurant this weekend. The outbreak, which was purportedly discovered through the popular crowdsourcing website iwaspoisoned.com.

The Norovirus Outbreak and Investigation Details

The crowdsourcing website, iwaspoisoned.com, represents to have received eight reports of foodborne illness stemming from the same Jimmy John’s location in Weston, Wisconsin. The site’s founder and Spokesman, Patrick Quade, confirmed that the site collected the reports and has provided information to the local health department. These eight reports are among the 19 confirmed illnesses related to the outbreak. According to one such report on the website, one victim alleges seeking medical attention and treatment from a physician for Norovirus.

The Marathon County Health Department has since launched an investigation into the illnesses. According to the agency’s Health and Safety Director Dale Grosskurth, “We have received some complaints and are doing follow-up… It’s a full investigation.” The agency has commenced inspection and potentially testing on the restaurant location. The media reports that the Marathon County Health Department began seeing reports of foodborne illness from patrons of the restaurant as early as April 7, 2017. Director Grosskurth confirmed the number of currently linked illnesses, and claims the investigation is pending. It may be weeks before it is completed. The agency did not offer public speculation as to how many illnesses are expected to be linked to the outbreak.

Interviews are underway in an attempt to identify the possible food source and the timing of the onset of the victim’s symptoms. Director Grosskurth confirmed the agency’s interviews will focus on “[f]ind[ing] out what foods they ate, symptoms they experienced. When did they eat? When did their symptoms start?” He further added, “We want to identify the factors that contributed to it. Whether its [sic] the food, employee behavior or something else.”

Several victims of the outbreak have come forward with interviews to the local news media. One patron of Jimmy Johns alleged experiencing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea over a four hour time period. Another victim, Weston resident Miranda Buck, has also been interviewed. She informed the media that she patronized the restaurant on April 6, 2017.  She states she began to feel ill the following morning. According to Ms. Buck, she experienced “Violent vomiting and diarrhea for four hours. When asked what she ate, she replied, “I ordered the Italian number nine… I also had a few bites of the Turkey Tom with cheese.” Buck is frustrated and discouraged. The local news media, WAOW, reported that “Buck said doctors have now told her the food poisoning has led to an infection in her intestines.” Buck said she just wants to feel better.

The restaurant was closed for sanitization and the pending investigation for several hours. The agency claims the restaurant has been cooperative in the investigations. “Do the cleaning and disinfection,” says Director Grosskurth, “Cooperated by getting rid of food that was prepared ahead of time.” The franchise confirmed the agency’s sentiments of cooperation. According to the franchise’s owner, Brian Macak,

“Food quality is our top priority and drives every decision we make. The Department of Health inspected our store on Friday following a handful of complaints about one delivery, but they found no food hygiene issues at the store. Regardless, we voluntarily closed our store for a few hours yesterday afternoon to deep clean all of the equipment… The Department of Health is continuing its investigation and we are working closely with them to provide any information required.”

Despite the outbreak and pending investigation, Director Grosskurth claims the restaurant is “safe to eat at.” The Marathon County Health Department is well-versed in outbreaks such as these. According to their website, the agency “investigates reports of illnesses related to food and water born diseases. The public health nurses and sanitarians work to identify the source of the illness and contain the spread of the disease. Some commonly reported diseases are Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, Norovirus, and Giardia.”

Crowdsourcing and Discovery

Patrick Quade of iwaspoisoned.com appears to have had a part in the identification of the outbreak. The site, boasting an efficient, easy to use platform captures reports throughout the United States and globally…It is in use by health departments in 70 percent of U.S. cities and has helped detect outbreaks” according to Quade. Quade has not mentioned how the health department received the reports of the eight victims from his site.

Norovirus Frequently Asked Questions

Norovirus is the most common form of food poisoning. It spreads and mutates quickly, so it is highly likely that a person will suffer from the infection multiple times throughout their lives. According to the Marathon County Health Department’s flyer on the pathogen:

“Norovirus is a virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. Norovirus is often incorrectly referred to as “the stomach flu”; however, norovirus illness is not related to the flu (influenza), which causes respiratory symptoms. Norovirus causes approximately 20 million illnesses each year in the United States. Anyone can get norovirus infection and become sick. There are many different types of noroviruses; having a norovirus infection once does not mean you will not get it again during your lifetime.”

The victims of this outbreak report the classic symptoms of Norovirus in their reports. These include: vomiting, watery (non-bloody) diarrhea, and stomach cramps. But there may be additional symptoms of fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue – although these symptoms may not be exhibited at all. These symptoms usually show within 12 to 48 hours after exposure.

To avoid spreading of the infection, the Marathon County Health Department recommends:

“Anyone with diarrhea or vomiting should stay home from work or school until symptoms are gone in order to prevent spreading norovirus to others.

People with diarrhea or who are vomiting should not handle food, work in or attend day care centers or schools, or take care of patients in a health care facility until 48 hours after their symptoms are gone.”

If you or someone you care for recently ate at Jimmy John’s in Weston, Wisconsin, and became ill, medical attention is recommended during this outbreak.

UnsafeFoods will continue to monitor the investigations on this outbreak and report the findings as they are forthcoming.

Sources:

http://www.waow.com/story/35137807/2017/04/Wednesday/health-department-investigating-food-poisoning-from-local-jimmy-johns

http://www.co.marathon.wi.us/Departments/HealthDepartment.aspx

https://iwaspoisoned.com