Diners contract norovirus at Redwood City hotel

Several health violations were discovered at a Redwood Shores hotel that may have contributed to a small norovirus outbreak that sickened dozens of people last week, health officials said.

Laboratory tests revealed Thursday that 62 people attending a Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce event at Hotel Sofitel on Jan. 24 were infected with the highly contagious virus, said San Mateo County Director of Environmental Health Dean Peterson. About 200 people attended the annual dinner and awards reception banquet.

Health officials said those who fell ill contracted the virus through either the salmon or chicken, which was served as the evening’s main course. Nobody who chose the vegetarian entrée fell sick, Peterson said.

Inspectors found evidence that the Sofitel’s staff was re-using dirty towels to wipe down tables, food being kept too hot or too cold and a dishwasher who was touching clean dishes directly after touching dirty dishes, said Peterson, who added that hotel management immediately corrected the violations.

While the exact method of transmission will likely never be known, investigators say it’s possible the chicken or fish was contaminated either through someone’s hands or through contaminated utensils.

“We definitely know norovirus is killed by high searing heat from pan frying or from an oven. It may have been contaminated after it was cooked,” Peterson said.

Norovirus most often causes symptoms similar to food poisoning 24 to 48 hours after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is usually gone in a day or two, and all of the San Mateo County victims are now on the mend, though dehydration sent several people to the emergency room, Peterson said.

Among those who fell ill was San Mateo County Supervisor Mark Church, his legislative aide Randy Torrijos confirmed. Hotel Sofitel’s general manager, Didierde La Ferrier, was also sickened, said Sofitel spokeswoman Janice Maragakis.

De La Ferrier was attending the event as a member of the chamber. No employees or hotel guests were affected, Maragakis said.

Andrew Berthelsen, legislative aide for Supervisor Rich Gordon, got sick two days after the event. The lab results didn’t matter much to him, he said Thursday.

“It doesn’t really help me to know what it was. It’s gone now and I’d rather not think about it,” he said.

Maragakis said the Sofiteldid not have any previous incidents involving the norovirus. She said the hotel has since been cleaned from top to bottom and hand sanitizer been placed throughout employee work areas.

“This is something totally out of the ordinary. When something like this happens, you tend to go overboard and make sure things are dealt with,” she said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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