KAMLOOPS - Interior Health is investigating more reports of illnesses that could be connected to an outbreak of norovirus suffered by Royal Inland Hospital staff following a meal catered by Dorian Greek House restaurant last week.
Based on suspicion the illness could have come from the restaurant that catered the event earlier in the week an inspector went to Dorian on Friday and found everything to be 'okay at that point.' Owner Diane Dokolas says the food was prepared by a staff member that didn't realize they were sick until about an hour and a half later. Staff did a full clean at that point but six other staff members, including Dokolas, also became ill.
Monday morning Interior Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Rob Parker got another call from a person who said their group had eaten there on Friday and now nine of them were ill with the same symptoms as the 40 hospital staff experienced-nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Brianne McKinnon attended her fiance's staff Christmas party at Dorian on Saturday and says she came down with the same type of stomach illness early Monday morning. Tirecraft Manager Graham O'Connor says he hasn't had any staff call in sick as of late Tuesday afternoon. Kayla Vannieuwenhuizen came down with the flu Sunday, less than 48 hours after her family ordered take out from Dorian Friday. While she was the only one to get ill in her family she believes she did pick up the flu from the restaurant as well. Her experience doesn't deter her from the restaurant specifically, though she is put off Greek food in general at the moment.
"I have been eating there on and off for years, and have never had a problem before. We do like it there," Vannieuwenhuizen says. "I hope they recover, I do. But yes, it's a pretty bad coincidence."
Parker says they have been contacting the members of the Friday night party to confirm illness and in the meantime an inspector went back to Dorian and a public health order of closure was issued to ensure owners did the necessary cleaning.
The medical health officer says lab results came in Monday morning and the bug operating and recovery room staff were hit by was in fact norovirus, as was suspected based on the time it took for symptoms to appear.
There are a variety of food borne illnesses, Parker notes, and people can get 'food poisoning' from improperly prepared or stored foods. Usually those dealing with bacterial contamination will get sick within a couple hours. While the symptoms experienced by the seven staff members at Dorian and by hospital staff are consistent with this, it actually took staff several days to get sick, which is typical of stomach flu and why norovirus was not the suspected cause from the beginning.
The doctor says the owners have been cooperative. A deep cleaning of everything took place yesterday evening (the order was issued at 3 p.m.) and all prepared foods had to be disposed of. Protocols about what symptoms to watch out for and staying home if you're sick will also have to be reviewed with staff before the restaurant can reopen.
Inspectors were on hand Tuesday afternoon to make sure the cleaning had all been done and to talk with staff about the best practices for personal hygiene like handwashing and staying home when they're sick. It was unclear as of mid-Tuesday when exactly the restaurant would be able to reopen.
Timelines between inspections can vary, Parker says, depending on the history of the establishment. Those operating for a long time with low risk ratings may only get inspected once every year while those put in the moderate to high risk rating because of past offenses face follow up inspections shortly after the initial inspection and will continue to be inspected more frequently until everything is brought up to code and inspectors feel the risk has been reduced to the public. Interior Health inspectors do try to visit every establishment at least once per year.
The last inspection listed online for Dorian Greek House is a routine one from October 2012, when a number of small issues were brought to the attention of the owners, including cooler temperatures too high, equipment cleaning or repair needed and grease and food drippings in the walk-in cooler, broken dirty shelving and mold on the walls and condenser fan. Kevin Touchet, the manager of environmental health for Interior Health says the next inspection report filled out was in October 2013 when the biggest concern was once again temperature control issues.
Closure orders are fairly rare, Touchet says, but inspectors are there to assess the risks and help operators reduce those risks. He notes personal hygiene plans are not a requirement for restaurants but it is recommended all operators follow what is considered best practices in personal hygiene, especially handwashing. Touchet was skeptical whether more stringent inspections would have prevented the outbreak because of how easily the virus spreads.
“It's a very common virus at this time of year,” Touchet notes, “And it's very easy to spread.”
Touchet also notes that it is common to have some issues uncovered during inspections and adds it is rare to not have anything identified as needing work. Calls to Interior Health inspectors with restaurant concerns are common, almost daily at times, but not all result in action. About six inspectors cover the Thompson-Nicola region, including Kamloops, and perform official inspections at every establishment at least once per year, though contact with operators between inspection reports do happen as follow up or to ensure recommendations are being followed.
The stomach flu is highly infectious and most health people get better within a couple of days. Parker says at this point anyone who ate at Dorian last week likely won't get sick from having eaten there at this point. That being said, not everyone who is sick necessarily got it from eating at the restaurant. They could've easily got it elsewhere. Parker stresses staying home when you're sick and washing your hands frequently will key in stopping the spread of the virus.
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