CHIPPEWA FALLS — The norovirus that caused at least 60 people to become sick with gastroenteritis at the Special Kids Day event May 18-19 at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds was caused by contaminated food at the event, a state official confirmed Monday.
“All evidence in the investigation suggests that the primary mode of transmission of norovirus was through contaminated food,” said Jennifer Miller, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services. “However, the source has not been determined and remains under investigation.”
Miller said multiple stool samples were collected from people who were ill, and lab tests found a “commonality” in them that indicated the illness was caused by food and not some other form of passing norovirus to others, such as physical contact.
“Nothing has been pinpointed yet,” Miller said of the possible contaminated food source.
Tom Leuck, organizer of Special Kids Day, said 738 disabled students — and about 1,000 people overall from 26 school districts from a nine-county area — attended the annual festival over two days. Reports of people getting sick attended both days, he added. Leuck noted that all food handlers were properly wearing gloves while serving.
Miller said she didn’t have any updated total of how many people got sick. A total of 38 people from Eau Claire County alone got sick at the event — 31 adult staff and seven students, said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.
Miller said the incident is a good reminder, with outdoor events from picnics to graduation parties, for people to wash their hands before serving or handling food.
People who got sick generally had vomiting and diarrhea, plus low-grade fever and fatigue. There is no cure for norovirus, but people have generally recovered after two or three days of illness.
Leuck, 64, created Special Kids Day 19 years ago, which is an annual springtime event for children with disabilities featuring games, food and music. Leuck raises money for the event by selling brats at stands across Wisconsin. His work was recognized in Washington, D.C., in 2014 with the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
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