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Banquet blamed for student illnesses at Raleigh conference

Posted March 23, 2010

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— State public health officials on Tuesday linked illnesses among scores of students at a leadership conference in Raleigh last month to a banquet at the Raleigh Convention Center.

About 150 of the 1,000 students from across the state who gathered at the downtown Raleigh Sheraton for a YMCA Youth & Government meeting on Feb. 12-14 reported nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Five were taken to area hospitals.

Wake County and state public health officials conducted an intensive investigation to determine the source of the illnesses, including surveying more than half of the conference attendees. Investigators found that students who ate at a Feb. 12 banquet at the convention center were almost three times more likely to get sick as those who didn't attend the banquet. No other meals were associated with illness, officials said.

Initial tests cited norovirus as the cause of the illnesses, but officials said follow-up tests couldn't confirm that. Noroviruses cause symptoms of intestinal distress and can spread quickly in confined spaces.

“The timing of the outbreak and the fact that most sick attendees had only diarrhea and not vomiting make it unlikely that norovirus was the main cause of the outbreak,” Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Still, some students might have had norovirus when they arrived at the conference in Raleigh.”

The short time between the dinner and the onset of illness makes it more likely that bacterial toxins, a common cause of food poisoning, were to blame, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting tests to pinpoint the toxin that caused the illnesses.

Bacterial toxins typically cause diarrhea, stomach cramps or vomiting within a few hours of eating contaminated food. The keys to preventing food-borne illness caused by these toxins are thoroughly washing raw ingredients to reduce bacteria on the food; keeping cooked foods separate from raw, uncooked foods; thoroughly cooking meat and poultry; and keeping cooked foods at safe temperatures after cooking.

Convention Center Director Roger Krupa said Tuesday evening that he doesn't believe the findings of the state investigation but said he and his staff would continue to review it.

"At this point, it's hard to accept the report," Krupa said. "All of the evidence is statistical and circumstantial. There are no lab results, no food samples, nothing factual."

The kitchens at the convention center and Sheraton were sanitized immediately after the illness outbreak, and Wake County health officials cleared the convention center to continue serving meals.


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  • ckblackm Mar 23, 2010

    They need to quit "speaking" until the full investigation is complete. If they then have facts.. then state them... quit guessing.

  • itsmyownopinion Mar 23, 2010

    Is anyone really surprised?

  • FromClayton Mar 23, 2010

    well when they give out those health scores at restruants they are not giving them out completly on facts either. they have no lab results or food sampeling either. of course there is science based research behind it, but they are giving it based on what they see that might could possibly cause health problems...maybe. If you want to eat at a B place then go ahead. I'm going to stick with places that have at least a mid-range A and stay away from places that may have got people sick and refuse to even acknowledge it.

  • Adelinthe Mar 23, 2010

    "At this point, it's hard to accept the report," Krupa said. "All of the evidence is statistical and circumstantial. There are no lab results, no food samples, nothing factual."


    From what was reported by the doctor spokesman of the person who did the tests, they don't know anything really - so why blame the convention center???

    God bless.


  • Southern Girl Mar 23, 2010

    Krupa - why is is hard to accept the report when the report is all-telling?

    You are on the hot seat, and you need to fix things.

  • Southern Girl Mar 23, 2010

    Sounds to me that the Raleigh Convention Center needs to clean up their act.

    Hmmmmm - how much money did tax-payers pay for this place? They should at least required hand-washing of employees.

  • FromClayton Mar 23, 2010

    Weren't they saying the Convention Center was not the cause initially? Hmmmm....

    no the convention center was saying it was not the cause....and apparently is still trying to...despite the evidence point to it.

  • shakenbake68 Mar 23, 2010

    A banquet type food set up provides plenty of opportunity for spoilage. Bacteria grows at an exponential rate. I am extremely sensitive to Bacterial toxins. Therefore, anytime I ate banquet type meals, i spent a few hours in the bathroom.

  • TomLynda Mar 23, 2010

    "At this point, it's hard to accept the report," Krupa said. "All of the evidence is statistical and circumstantial."

    Let's see now. The kids that ate at the banquet got sick. (not all but a lot). The kids that didn't eat at the banquet didn't get sick. Seems like Krupa has a problem "connecting the dots" and flat out accepting responsibility.

  • WHEEL Mar 23, 2010

    Good thing it wasn't something fatal if it took our great State 5 weeks to come up with a "maybee".