The Tacoma Pierce County Health Department closed El Toro Mexican Restaurant in Tacoma’s Westgate neighborhood Monday (Jan. 8) due to a suspected norovirus outbreak.
Diners began reporting illnesses on Friday (Jan. 5), said Edie Jeffers, communications manager for the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department.
Two illness reports came in Friday and another was filed Monday. Those who became ill include six diners from six separate households.
Those who reported the illness ate at the restaurant at 5716 N. 26th St. on Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2.
“We haven’t done lab-confirmed stool samples, but it is behaving like a norovirus,” said Jeffers. It is not believed to be E.coli or related to the recent outbreak of illness that Canadian officials have linked to romaine lettuce.
Norovirus is known as the “cruise ship illness” because of how quickly and widely it can spread in close quarters. It is extremely contagious and can be transmitted through contact with an ill person or surfaces they’ve touched. It also can be spread through shellfish, but that’s not believed to the transmission source here.
Health department officials suspect the outbreak at El Toro is due to person-to-person contact or surface contact with a sick employee or employees.
Norovirus symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, and some people experience headache, fever and chills. Those infected can spread the virus up to two weeks after recovering from the illness, which is why recovering patients should be vigilant in washing hands frequently, said Carolyn Bassett, an environmental health supervisor with the health department.
The virus spreads easily because “it’s one of those ones where you need a very, very small dose of it to get sick. It’s environmentally persistent. It can live up to three weeks on some surfaces,” said Katie Lott, food program manager with TPCHD.
The restaurant will remain closed for the standard 24 hours as the health department investigates and the restaurant sanitizes its surfaces and discards food, said Jeffers.
Norovirus outbreaks are common this time of year. If a member of a household becomes ill with a suspected norovirus, extra precautions should be taken to avoid getting other family members sick. Health department officials suggested sanitizing surfaces with a ratio of 1-2/3 cups of household bleach per each gallon of water.
Lott added, “Cleanup is really important so you don’t make yourself sick. With norovirus, you typically have a secondary outbreak (in the home) because the cleaning process wasn’t thorough enough.”