An outbreak of illness prompted an Otter Tail lake country resort voluntarily close its doors for a complete cleaning.
An undetermined number of people became ill with what is believed to be a norovirus, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Most of those who became ill appear to have come into contact with the virus in the swimming pool-water park area of Thumper Pond Resort and Restaurant.
Flu-like symptoms were reported following New Year's weekend, when there were large groups in the pool and water park almost constantly. A few illnesses reported earlier in December may also be linked.
Thumper Pond management temporarily shut down the resort on Jan. 5. The resort was scheduled to reopen Jan. 8.
The property underwent a deep cleaning based on exacting guidelines set by the Minnesota Department of Health--established to eradicate the virus.
"We are not taking any chances of allowing the virus to spread further and are therefore closing the property to allow for a thorough cleaning of the entire facility," said Bill Schultz, vice president of Thumper Pond's management company, Madison Hospitality Group. "The Minnesota Department of Health has been very supportive."
Because the investigation is ongoing, the exact number of cases involved is not available. However, MDH has received a number of complaints of norovirus-like illnesses linked to the facility, from Dec. 19 through New Year's Eve, according to Doug Schultz, Department of Health spokesman (no relationship Bill Schultz of Thumper management).
One of the victims was Kelly Pilgrim, who became ill-along with her two children-after the family spent a day at the water park. Her husband did not contract the illness. A group of nearly 40, most of them friends or relatives of the Pilgrims, had rented ten rooms at Thumper Pond, and about 15 of them were believed to have taken ill following the New Year's weekend holiday stay, noted Pilgrim.
"I hate to find Thumper at fault...I consider them innocent until proven guilty," said Pilgrim. Her family did not eat at Thumper Pond, so in their case the virus was contracted in the pool area. Pilgrim said the pathogen could have come from outside of the hotel, and incubated there.
Norovirus passes from hand-to-mouth through direct contact with another sick person, through eating contaminated food or touching surfaces and objects, contaminated with the virus. It has an incubation period of 24 to 48 hours.
Most people recover in one to two days and have no long-term health effects.
"Until we know more, I want Thumper Pond have an opportunity to resolve the is-sue," said Pilgrim. "It very possibly was not even their fault; something they were exposed to from outside...They're a business in our community and we don't want to hurt them."
Norovirus infection causes gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and the small and large intestines. Noroviruses are by far the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in Minnesota.
Norovirus, also known as Norwalk, is a rapidly spreading foodborne illness, with symptoms commonly including vomiting and diarrhea.
The infection is often mistakenly referred to as the "stomach flu," but it is not related to the flu (influenza), which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.
Common symptoms include, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
Other symptoms may include: headache, fever/chills and muscle aches.
Professional cleaners disinfected the property from top to bottom, including the water park.
"We just felt it's critical to get it cleaned up as quickly as possible," Thumper Pond's Schultz said.
"The fact that they voluntarily closed the doors in an attempt to isolate the virus says a lot," said Pilgrim.
Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people. People can become infected with the virus in several ways, including eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus by foodhandlers who have not washed their hands adequately. Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth or eating before washing their hands can also transmit it.
Persons working in daycare centers or nursing homes should pay special attention to children or residents who have norovirus illness. This virus is very contagious and can spread rapidly throughout such environments.
Perhaps the most publicized cases of an outbreak were a rash of illnesses aboard cruise ships, which occurred several years ago.
"Thumper has been doing a good job over past week working with us to make sure we get the pathogens out of the facility," said Doug Schultz, Dept. of Health. "It can be very stubborn...It could have spread through the pool, on various surfaces, and contact in bathrooms."
The facility was closed for several days to take steps to prevent further illness and correct problems that were identified during inspections of the facility, which includes guest rooms, a restaurant and pool/water park.
Doug Schultz of the MDH listed some of those cleaning measures:
Steam cleaning all carpets in the whole facility (rooms, public areas, etc)
Cleaning bathrooms and all surfaces with products that are effective against norovirus. Thoroughly cleaning each room, including rewashing linens, washing ice buckets, coffee makers, etc.
"Shocking" or super-chlorinating all pool areas and features and ensuring appropriate chemical balances.
Draining and cleaning kiddie pool/wading pool and hot tub, refilling and superchlori-nating.
Cleaning pool area floors/tables/chairs/pool equipment (including pool toys/floaties/inner tubes/etc)
Ensuring that no employees return to work until at least 72 hours after resolution of symptoms.
Reviewing the importance and proper techniques of hand washing with employees.
Implementing glove use and utensil use to minimize bare hand contact with foods.
Notices and information for the public.
Posting signs by the pool to ask that if guests have been ill that they not swim in the pool/wading pool/hot tub.