Norovirus Confirmed In Boston Chipotle Outbreak: Experts Fear Infection Is Likely To Spread

Shortly after eating at a local Chipotle restaurant location this past weekend, over 100 Boston College students reported nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Health authorities have since confirmed that a norovirus infection was the specific cause for the Boston Chipotle outbreak.

The Boston Herald is now reporting that 120 Boston College students are sick with a norovirus infection. This number is up from 80 cases as of Tuesday afternoon.

Most of the ill students ate at one particular Chipotle Mexican restaurant in Boston. The Boston Public Health Commission confirms the illnesses are due to the norovirus, not E. coli, as previously suspected.

Norovirus infects several Boston college students after eating at Chipotle.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, an earlier Chipotle E. coli outbreak caused the closure of more than 40 restaurants in nine states. After the college students got sick, health officials promptly tested for the dangerous bacteria at the Boston Chipotle location. The students were tested for an E. coli infection, as well.

All tests so far show the norovirus is making the students sick, and health officials are now focused on how to treat the current cases, while preventing new ones.

Health experts fear the disease will become more widespread as the norovirus is highly contagious. An infection is very easily spread by contaminated food, poor hygiene, and touching tainted surfaces. The virus also moves quickly person-to-person.

Dr. Ben Kruskal with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates says, “We do see clusters, we do see spikes in norovirus activity, so it is totally possible that it could spread.”

Due to the nature of the virus, Benjamin Chapman, a restaurant food safety expert, believes more and more cases of norovirus infection will be reported in the coming weeks and months.

“This is the height of norovirus season. It does well in the winter. Between now and March, we’ll probably see an outbreak per week linked to a restaurant, a college or a hospital.”

However, it is unusual for a single restaurant chain to be subject to so many outbreaks. Now that health officials have confirmed the norovirus came from Chipotle, this new outbreak only adds to the continuing food contamination problems the restaurant chain has had in the past few months.

In July, five cases of E. coli were reported and linked to a Chipotle in Seattle, Washington, while a different strain caused the much larger outbreak in October. In addition to the Boston cases, several other norovirus infections were reported in California as well as a salmonella contamination report in Minnesota.

Even prior to the Boston Chipotle outbreak, the nationwide grill has been working on a plan to revamp its food-safety procedures. The company will be providing additional training for employees, as well as implementing enhanced tracking methods for food suppliers.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the recent norovirus infection is not related to previous outbreaks and the chain will continue its commitment to food safety and quality.

“It’s important to note that we have been in business for 22 years and served millions of people in that time without seeing incidents like we have seen this year … That said, even one illness connected to our restaurants is too many, so we have set a goal to be an industry leader in food safety.”

Food safety experts point out that Chipotle is especially susceptible to food contamination and potential outbreaks like a norovirus infection. Much of the restaurant’s menu includes items with fresh produce, and health authorities are quick to blame vegetables whenever an outbreak like this occurs.

Taylor Farms Pacific, a major vegetable supplier to companies like Costco and Target, is currently undergoing a major nationwide recall of several packaged vegetable products due to bacterial contamination. The Taylor Farms recall has not been linked to the Chipotle outbreaks.

Norovirus tested positive at Boston Chipotle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says approximately 56,000 to 71,000 people are hospitalized and 800 deaths occur each year from a norovirus infection. It is particularly dangerous to children and the elderly.

Although the latest Boston Chipotle outbreak has been confirmed to be a norovirus infection, the source of the disease has not been precisely determined. Until the exact source is found, whether it be food or a contaminated surface, health experts are warning the virus may continue to infect others. In the meantime, Chipotle will be taking the brunt of the blame for this new outbreak.

[Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images]