Shrimp Fest Likely to Get More Health Scrutiny; Food-Handling Rules Will Get a Going-Over after Norovirus Case

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FERNANDINA BEACH - In the month since the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival at Fernandina Beach, about 50 people have contacted the Nassau County Health Department to say something they ate or drank made them violently ill.

Nassau County Health Department officials have narrowed down cases of a norovirus, a nasty stomach virus that sometimes breaks out on cruise ships, to the Fernandina Beach cheerleaders' fresh-squeezed lemonade booth.

Recent publicity of the illnesses has caused more festival attendees to call, telling the health department they, too, got sick soon afterward. Since the health department's investigation began using 30 cases, 20 more have called, she said.

"Two more people called today," Nassau County Health Department Epidemiology Nurse Kim Geib said June 6. She noted ongoing publicity has spurred on more people who got sick May 5 through 7, days after the Shrimp Festival, which ran May 4 through 6, to call. Norovirus has an average incubation time of 34 hours, Geib said.

The virus lasts two to three days and everyone who got it has since recovered, she said.

Geib said she thinks the outbreak happened because the Health Department doesn't inspect the food booths at the shrimp festival.

"They're not regulated," Geib said. "They don't have health inspections. We probably had some virus circulating in the community. Someone shedding the virus may have passed it because they weren't washing their hands in preparing the drinks. …


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