128 illnesses linked to virus

Health officials say a common stomach virus is linked to at least 128 people who turned ill after eating at a Conover seafood restaurant this month.

Citizens reported to Catawba County Public Health (CCPH) that they experienced nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after eating at the Harbor Inn Seafood restaurant on Fairgrove Church Road on Jan. 13-14.

CCPH reported 18 Harbor Inn-related illnesses had been documented Jan. 20. The number of documented reports climbed to 40 on Tuesday. Health officials said Friday that 128 illness complaints have now been documented.

CCPH collected stool samples from ill citizens and submitted five to the N.C. Division of Public Health for testing Wednesday, said Amy McCauley, CCPH community outreach manager.

Tests determined that norovirus — commonly called a stomach bug and sometimes linked to food poisoning — was the cause of the illnesses.
"At this time, the source of the norovirus is still undetermined," McCauley said.

Some Harbor Inn patrons who got sick said they believe salad was the cause.

"I think that's where the link's coming from," said Addison Fox, of Hickory. "It was the salad."

Fox said he ate at Harbor Inn with his father and brother Jan. 13. His brother did not have a salad and did not get sick. He and his father ate a salad and became ill that night.

"I've been sick before, but that was one of the worst experiences I've ever had," Fox said. "I was sound asleep, woke up and was going to be sick. Convulsing would be a better word. Six, seven or eight hours later, I felt like my body had been through the ringer."

George Ziogas, Harbor Inn's owner, told The O-N-E this week that he knew of no problems with the food, its handling or storage at his restaurant.

Health officials said CCPH found no violations during an inspection of the restaurant. CCPH conducted sanitation training with Harbor Inn's staff this week.

"Catawba County Public Health is continuing to work closely with Harbor Inn to help prevent further illness," said Doug Urland, CCPH health director. "Because norovirus is such a common illness, especially during this time of year, we encourage everyone to help prevent the spread of infection by washing their hands often and staying home when sick."

County health officials recommend someone with norovirus drink fluids to prevent dehydration and visit a doctor if symptoms continue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is a common, easily transmissible and highly contagious illness that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.

Fox estimated he's eaten at Harbor Inn about two dozen times.
"I'll go back," he said. "They have a good reputation, and I think they have a loyal customer base. This could happen anywhere."