A reminder to wash hands often to prevent illness is coming from the state health department in the wake of an illness that affected a Little Falls wedding party.
The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating to find what caused the outbreak, spokesman Buddy Ferguson said Thursday. About 50 people came down with symptoms of the food-borne Norwalk virus after attending a wedding Saturday in Little Falls.
The department has interviewed about half of the 270 people who attended the wedding reception Saturday at the Falls Ballroom, Ferguson said.
"It's pretty clear that was the site of the outbreak," he said. "But, in terms of the source, we haven't been able to pinpoint that."
The Falls Ballroom is owned by Tom and Francie Peterson.
The Falls Ballroom, with a lengthy history as a business in the community, has had no problems with health violations before, Francie Peterson said.
Francie Peterson said none of her staff was ill before the wedding, but some of them, including her husband, got sick afterward. Tom Peterson was sick Monday night but was feeling better the following day. The staff has been interviewed by the health department, she said.
Today Francie Peterson said she learned someone from the wedding party was sick before the reception at the ballroom. The ballroom provided the food for the reception, but Peterson said nothing has been discovered that places the fault with practices by the business.
Peterson said the ballroom's wait staff employees are conscientious about washing their hands but they have no control over the 300 to 350 people who can come through the doors attending an event.
"It makes us look bad and that's where our frustration sets in," she said.
Peterson said the incident makes them feel helpless in terms of their business' reputation and sorry for everyone who became ill.
The virus typically causes illness within 24 to 48 hours of exposure. Those who have it or have been exposed to it can infect others for up to two weeks, Ferguson said.
Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. Ferguson said outbreaks this time of year are fairly common.
The Falls Ballroom has been in business for 53 years. The Petersons are the third generation in the business and have owned it about 17 years. During that time, Francie Peterson said they fed hundreds of thousands of people.
Now people have gotten sick, she said. "It's just not fair to our reputation what is going on here. ... It's not our food. It was transmitted by a person."
For a small independent business, Peterson said the whole situation is frustrating and unfortunate. A full report by the state Department of Health may take several weeks and such investigations have been completed before without an ability to track the direct cause of the outbreak.
Ferguson urged people to wash their hands to stop it from spreading. The virus is considered very infectious.
"Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing," Ferguson said. "The single biggest thing is to get everybody to be scrupulous about hand washing to stop the bug dead."
(This story includes information from The Associated Press.)
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