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Rod Smith

Virus Outbreak at Local Hotel Subsiding

17 March 2004

The norovirus outbreak at the California Hotel seems to have subsided, but no "all clear" declaration from the Clark County Health District is on the horizon, county and company officials agreed Tuesday.

The Health District reported 1,174 gastrointestinal illness complaints between Dec. 3 and March 12, but only 74 were received in the past week.

However, Health District spokesman Dave Tonelli said the number of reported cases will have to fall to a standard baseline level of about two a week for a month before his agency will give the hotel-casino a clean bill of health.

"We're hopeful it will happen, but we're not there yet," he said.

Rob Stillwell, spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns the downtown Las Vegas hotel-casino, said reports of the outbreak have adversely affected reservations and occupancy, but not significantly.

"Most of the calls coming in are from people seeking reassurance that we're doing everything we can and that the bulk of incidents were in January and February," Stillwell said. "It's in decline, but the Health District won't report it gone until we've had a disease-free month."

Tonelli called the decline in new cases encouraging, but said it is common in norovirus outbreaks for a resurgence to follow a decline.

He said the cumulative count includes security reports from Boyd Gaming, individuals calling in, and documents filed by doctors' offices and hospitals.

Tonelli said callers are questioned rigorously to make sure their complaints are valid, and that all three methods of reporting correlate closely with one another, validating the data.

The Health District said increased media coverage of the outbreak, particularly in Hawaii, where most guests at the California come from, have prompted additional hotel-casino customers to report illnesses than had been previously unreported during December, January and February.

However, Tonelli said the Health District wants to hear from everyone who might have been affected so it can better assess the problem's extent.

Tonelli said his agency takes every situation involving the outbreak of a disease seriously, but is not warning people to stay away from the California.

Instead, it is urging people to observe good hygiene practices since the virus can exist on surfaces outside the body for up to a month.

The virus was brought to the attention of the Clark County Health District in November, although at first it was not associated with the hotel.

Around mid-December, authorities saw more cases, many in people who had been at the hotel, stayed there or gambled in its casino.

The virus causes flulike symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, that typically last 24 hours. It is rarely serious.

The cause of the norovirus outbreak is so far undetermined, but remains under investigation.