Olympic officials went into an emergency state as the norovirus infection has spread to an additional 54 people, a day ahead of the winter games opening on Friday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), at a press briefing Wednesday, said the number of infected people rose from 32 to 86 people, including security guards, police officers, and a few reporting assistants.
“We have conducted extensive epidemiological surveys, and found more infected cases and are isolating them to prevent the disease from spreading further,” said Hong Jeong-ik, director of the crisis management division.
It started with dozens of security guards beginning to experience the symptoms of the virus infection such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain Sunday. About 1,200 guards have since been isolated with organizers replacing them with members of the armed service.
Health authorities are making sure that all the people involved drink boiled water, eat uncontaminated food, and wash their hands to make sure the virus does not spread.
Norovirus, also known as the “winter vomiting bug” is highly contagious and is often spread through touching surfaces or ingesting food and water contaminated with fecal matter. The virus thrives among those living in close quarters and can survive even boiling and cold water and surfaces. No drugs can treat the stomach bug, but the illness goes away by itself in a couple of days.
Health authorities have yet to find the exact route of infection. The KCDC, Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, and the PyeongChang Health Center and County Hospital are carrying out joint epidemiological examinations on infected people.
“There are 86 people infected, and it’s possible to divide them into various groups regarding the cause of infection,” Hong said. “The reports of infections came from multiple locations, indicating different causes of infection.”
According to the survey, the infected personnel had different virus genotypes and also worked at various locations and ate different foods. Different infection pathways indicate the virus can spread simultaneously through multiple sources.
“We are examining the infection pathway through various routes in close cooperation with the related institutions,” said Park Ki-soo, an official responsible for communication in times of crisis. “We cannot determine the specific cause at this time because we need to consider various infection routes.”
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety denied the possibility of contaminated water being the cause. Health authorities said they are also isolating those suspected of infection at the residence, letting them return to work only after confirming no further symptoms of the virus.
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