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Norovirus identified as bug that sickened cheerleaders across county, state

OLYMPIA — Testing at the state Public Health Laboratories confirms that norovirus caused hundreds of illnesses during and after the Feb. 4 state high school cheerleading tournament in Everett. Norovirus is typically transmitted person-to-person.

Jodi Runyon of the Marysville School District confirmed that five students on the 15-member Marysville-Pilchuck High School cheerleading team were among the 19 cheer squads, out of the 45 squads in the competition at the Comcast Arena, whose onset of symptoms reportedly began on Feb. 5 and 6.

Arlington Cheer Advisor Brooke Dalgaard reported that none of her cheerleaders have experienced the flu-like symptoms exhibited by the Marysville cheerleaders, while Lakewood High School Principal Dale Leach is not aware of any Lakewood cheerleaders either attending the event or suffering any symptoms.

The number of people reporting they suffered vomiting and diarrhea during the event or in the days after is now 229. At least 33 have reported seeking medical care, though there have been no overnight hospital admissions. The numbers are expected to grow as state health officials receive answers from surveys that were sent to participants and families.

The Washington State Department of Health is leading the disease investigation, working with local health partners and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which sponsored the event.

As part of the investigation, questionnaires were sent to participants and their families, and stool samples were collected for testing, whose results confirmed norovirus. About 3,000 people attended the event and more than 1,000 competed.

According to Snohomish Health District officials, it appears that some athletes arrived to the event already ill. Janitorial crews were called to clean up vomit from the floors of a restroom and the adjacent concourse walkway prior to the event's awards ceremony on Feb. 4. Those sites are considered likely exposure sites for the cheer and dance teams.

Health District officials reported that the Comcast Arena is being cleaned for public use and entertainment under direction from Comcast management, and that management is cooperating fully with the illness investigation. On Health District recommendations, arena staff began cleaning and sanitizing the building and food preparation areas on Feb. 6. The city of Everett also tested the drinking water supply to the arena. It proved to be safe, ruling out the public drinking water supply as a source of the causative disease organism.

Epidemiologists had believed the illness was caused by a Norwalk-like virus because so many patients experienced severe vomiting and diarrhea in a short span of time, and because of the 24- to 48-hour duration of the illness. To reduce the spread of the illness, they advise close attention to thorough hand washing with hot water and soap, and immediate sanitizing of contaminated surfaces and clothing with bleach solution. People whose symptoms extend beyond 48 hours should beware of dehydration and should seek the care of a medical provider.

For updates about issues affecting the health of the community, check the Snohomish Health District website at www.snohd.org. Call 425-339-5278 with questions about communicable diseases.

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