Norovirus outbreak traced to North Carolina sushi restaurant sickens 241

A norovirus outbreak linked to a North Carolina sushi restaurant has sickened at least 241 people since late last month, local health authorities said Thursday.

Before falling ill, all the victims had visited Sushi Nine in Raleigh between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, according to Wake County’s public health and environmental services departments.

“Unfortunately, norovirus can spread very easily, especially during the winter months when people come together for holiday gatherings and parties which include a lot of meal prep and catering,” Wake County Public Health Director Rebecca Kaufman said in a statement.

Norovirus commonly causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain, which are sometimes accompanied by dehydration or fever. The illness is often referred to colloquially as “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.” The virus is highly contagious and spreads via tainted seafood, surfaces, water and unwashed hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mac Schreiber, the manager of Sushi Nine, told NBC news on Friday that the restaurant believes the norovirus spread from a sick patron who visited the establishment — not the sushi.

“We’re pretty confident that it wasn’t the food,” Schreiber said. “We have a reasonable belief that a customer with norovirus dined in the restaurant a few days prior.”

Sushi Nine in Raleigh, N.C.
Sushi Nine in Raleigh, N.C.Google Maps

Sushi Nine voluntarily closed for deep cleaning on Dec. 5 and reopened on Dec. 8 with no new cases arising, officials said.

“We continue to work closely with customers who visited Sushi Nine, restaurant staff and our partners with NCDHHS to determine the source and extent of the outbreak,” Kaufman said.

The restaurant was open for business on Friday. Its Facebook page advertised its cheesecake on Thursday and various hand rolls on Wednesday.

Schreiber said business has been down recently — and “significantly” so this week. But the restaurant, which is a short walk from the North Carolina State University campus, appreciates the loyal customers who have still been coming, he added.

“We’re near a college campus and people were graduating today, so we had some parties here celebrating graduation,” Schreiber said.

Norovirus is the most common type of foodborne illness in the United States, causing about 58% of such cases — an estimated 20 million illnesses per year. Most outbreaks occur between November and April.

Just a few norovirus particles can make someone ill, and infected people can shed billions of them — sometimes for days or weeks after they’re feeling better. The particles can linger on surfaces for two weeks or longer without proper cleaning.