08 MARCH 2016
~ National guidelines being drafted ~
PHILIPSBURG–The norovirus outbreak at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino in February was due to “external intrusion stimulated by cross- contamination,” and not a result of food or drinking water at the resort, Collective Prevention Services (CPS) said on Monday.
Some 200 tourists, who had arrived on the island from Canada around February 17, and an unspecified number of students who had been at the resort for a regional debating competition, soon after were affected by the outbreak. CPS released the information after completing its report on the outbreak.
CPS said the Resort noticed a sudden spike in guests complaining of mainly vomiting and a few cases also had diarrhoea; affected were the Canadian tourists. The hotel’s consulting doctor was called in and guidelines were provided in connection with sanitation measures. After a dormant period of about a week, a sudden increase in gastroenteritis was again noted amongst the overseas students, some of whom had checked-in on February 24, and the majority on February 25.
Treatment was provided by the hotel’s physician and at the St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC). Various sanitation and preventive measures were re-emphasised.
“Because of the inherit aggressiveness of the norovirus, very hard and effective measures had to be implemented in the hotel according to the investigations and inspection results observed by government officials,” CPS said in a press release. “The intervention by hotel management and staff in the initial phase was well managed. It can be concluded based on the ministries investigation that this was not an outbreak originating in food or drinking water, but rather by external intrusion stimulated by cross-contamination.”
CPS head Dr. Virginia Asin said various recommendations have been made to further strengthen outbreak response procedures, management and control. These will also be extended to other hotels on the island. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders as we further strengthen our community response mechanisms for infectious diseases and viruses,” she added.
Asin said CPS “took the lead” in outbreak surveillance and investigation to identify the transmission mode and potential sources to guide the implementation of response measures. The department recommended strict adherence to preventive and control measures.
The Ministry of Health Labour and Social Affairs VSA is drafting national guidelines for norovirus outbreak management. The Ministry plans to meet with the hotel sector in collaboration with the St. Maarten Hotel and Trade Association (SHTA) and the Tourist Bureau, to inform them about the guidelines and to provide for a norovirus prevention and management package.
The Inspectorate of Public Health, Social Development Labour will require that all hotels have a norovirus sanitation control plan in place and operational to prevent norovirus-borne gastroenteritis.
Norovirus gastroenteritis is a common disease worldwide affecting all age groups and often causing outbreaks. The norovirus symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, myalgia, headache, malaise, fever, or a combination of several of these symptoms. The latter lasts usually 24 to 48 hours.
Health Minister Emil Lee thanked stakeholders for their “professional response” during this process.
Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten