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SK restaurant linked to diarrhea outbreak: CDC

TAIPEI -- A recent diarrhea outbreak among Taiwanese tourists in South Korea was caused by a norovirus infection at a restaurant there that had provided meals for the visitors, Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported yesterday.

Employees at the restaurant tested positive for norovirus, a common stomach bug, but the diarrhea outbreak has been brought under control and the restaurant has since been shut down, according to CDC Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw.

He declined to identify the restaurant or disclose the names of the employees affected by the virus, saying that the investigative process in South Korea must be respected.

Chou said the norovirus was found in the specimens of 10 Taiwanese tourists who had sought medical attention in South Korea after they fell ill there last month.

South Korean health authorities have disinfected certain areas of the country, and travel agents are no longer booking restaurants where there is a risk of norovirus transmission, he said.

The CDC has asked Taiwan's health bureaus to continue to follow upon returning travelers who experience symptoms of the stomach bug, Chou said.

Since Dec. 25, clusters of gastroenteritis cases have been reported among 25 Taiwanese tour groups that have visited South Korea.

When the illness first occurred in two Taiwanese tour groups in late December, it was attributed to food poisoning as some of the travelers had reported symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea after eating roast pork at a big restaurant near Seoul.

The CDC has obtained a list of 650 Taiwanese travelers in tour groups where such illness had occurred. Among them, 370 people had reported symptoms such as diarrhea, stomachache and vomiting, and 18 of them were found to have norovirus.

The Taiwanese tourists who became ill had visited certain restaurants a day or two before they developed the symptoms, according to a joint epidemiological investigation by Taiwan and South Korea.

Some Hong Kong tourists to South Korea also fell ill with similar symptoms, according to media reports.

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.

The virus is usually transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and by aerosolization and subsequent contamination of surfaces.

The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Sometimes people develop a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle pains and a general sense of tiredness.

The illness often begins suddenly and the infected person may feel very sick. In most cases, the symptoms last 1 or 2 days.

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