Although food handlers are often implicated as the source of infection in outbreaks of food-borne viral gastroenteritis, little is known about the timing of infectivity in relation to illness. We investigated a gastroenteritis outbreak among employees of a manufacturing company and found an association (RR=14·1, 95% CI=2·0–97·3) between disease and eating sandwiches prepared by 6 food handlers, 1 of whom reported gastroenteritis which had subsided 4 days earlier. Norwalk-like viruses were detected by electron microscopy or reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in stool specimens from several company employees, the sick food handler whose specimen was obtained 10 days after resolution of illness, and an asymptomatic food handler. All RT-PCR product sequences were identical, suggesting a common source of infection. These data support observations from recent volunteer studies that current recommendations to exclude food handlers from work for 48–72 h after recovery from illness may not always prevent transmission of Norwalk-like viruses because virus can be shed up to 10 days after illness or while exhibiting no symptoms.
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