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Likely Norovirus Outbreak Strikes the GOP Convention

It’s a short-lived bug with explosive—and contagious—results

There is an outbreak of norovirus among a group of staffers for the California delegation of the Republican National Convention in Ohio. (RNC)
smithsonian.com

At national conventions, health is usually on the agenda. But it’s not every day that the health in question is that of convention goers themselves. Things at this week’s GOP National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio have taken an icky turn, report Joel Achenback, Elahe Izadi and Ed O’Keefe for The Washington Post: A group of Republican staffers appear to have fallen ill with norovirus.

The disease has stricken 12 staff members from the California delegation thus far, writes the Post. Health officials from Erie County tell the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Patrick Cooley that though they are not yet ready to declare that the illness is norovirus, it shares symptoms with the disease. The staffers are staying at Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, about 60 miles away from the convention.

Norovirus is extremely contagious, spreading within 12 to 48 hours after from innocuous contact with infected individuals, touching contaminated surfaces or drinking or eating substances that have come into contact with the virus. Common symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain and can include fever and aches. Like many infectious diseases, the very young, very old and those with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk and may need to be hospitalized. Others recover relatively quickly with good hydration and rest.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is the leading cause of illness from contaminated food in the United States. That’s because it is passed from feces to mouth—a common disease route and one that’s prevalent in kitchens, bathrooms and pools.

Since norovirus cannot be grown in cell culture, it must be tested for using a fecal analysis that identifies small numbers of copies of the virus within the patient’s RNA. Though Erie County officials are reportedly testing for norovirus now, it can take a while to receive the results. And patients are contagious from the moment they contract the disease until it is over. Since the disease is so contagious, it tends to come in waves of outbreaks, causing up to 21 million cases of illness every year, and close environments like classrooms and cruise ships can result in the illness getting passed from one person to the next quickly.

RNC officials and hotel workers are taking precautions: They tell STAT’s Helen Branswell that the ill people have been quarantined, delegates have been advised on precautions, and the resort itself has installed hand sanitizing stations. The California delegation apparently was unhappy with their convention digs before the event began, complaining about its distance from the Quicken Loans Arena, but then changed its mind. If other members of the delegation end up contracting the disease, though, other attendees of the convention might be happy they’re so far away.

No delegates are reported ill yet, but norovirus tends to spread like wildfire. How might that affect the convention? It’s anyone’s guess. But attendees would be well advised to wash their hands and stick to their hotel rooms if they suspect they’ve fallen ill. Leave it to the human body to throw a wrench in the democratic process.

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