New cases of Vegas
virus declining

Though recent cases dip, a flood
of reports raises the total 25%

The number of people who have reported contracting a stomach virus after visiting the California Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has climbed 25 percent since last week, according to Nevada health officials, who have yet to discover the source of the illness.

Four months of infection

Clark County health officials have released a month-by-month breakdown of complaints about a stomach flu virus from those visiting the California Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas:

December: 178 cases
January: 412 cases
February: 616 cases
March: 269 cases (as of Sunday)

After initial media reports earlier this month that hundreds of California patrons became ill since early December, health officials have been inundated with calls from other customers of the downtown hotel, which is popular with Hawaii vacationers.

As of Sunday the number of cases of Norwalk virus since Dec. 3 reached 1,475, said David Tonelli, spokesman for the Clark County Health District in Las Vegas. Last week, health officials reported 1,174 cases between Dec. 3 and March 12.

Even though the total rose, Tonelli noted that the rate of new cases has fallen for three straight weeks. He said 173 were cases reported between Feb. 27 and March 4; 103 cases between March 5 and 12; and 50 cases between March 13 and last Friday.

"Any decline is encouraging," said Tonelli. "Given the nature of this virus, we are cautiously optimistic that we are going to see a sustained decline that we need."

Health officials said they will consider the outbreak contained when they see a "sustained decline" where two to three complaints are received per week over a one-month period.

Last Thursday, a team of communicable disease specialists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in Las Vegas to assist health officials in their investigation into the outbreak's origins.

"We're still taking a look at all the data we have and what more we can draw from it and see if there's anything we can learn," said Tonelli.

Symptoms of the Norwalk virus include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps that could last up to three days.

Clark County health officials compiled the number of complaints made to their office, hospitals, doctors' offices and security at Boyd Gaming Corp., which owns the California Hotel. Most complaints came from Hawaii vacationers.

Tonelli said the number of cases represents those who visited or stayed at the California Hotel after Dec. 3 and complained of vomiting and diarrhea during or soon after their visit.

Boyd spokesman Rob Stillwell said cancellations in recent weeks at the company's downtown hotels were minimal.

"Most of the calls have been from people wanting information on the situation," said Stillwell.

Likewise, a spokesman for Omni Air International Inc., the Tulsa, Okla.-based charter company that flies many of Boyd's customers from Honolulu to Las Vegas, said that the outbreak has not affected business.

"It has continued to remain very strong," said Managing Director Chuck Pollard. "We have seen no indication that no one wants to make that trip."

Omni Air has intensified cleaning efforts to ensure travelers' safety, he said.

For the past two weeks, employees have been using hospital-grade disinfectants to clean aircraft and have been removing pillows and blankets after each flight, Pollard said.

Since March 13 an employee on each flight has been designated to keep the bathrooms clean after complaints about the appearance of their bathrooms.

"An individual is cleaning the bathroom en route to make sure they stay clean," said Pollard.

Anyone who believes they were infected by the Norwalk virus during a Las Vegas visit can call the Clark County Health District's epidemiology office at 702-383-1378.


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