The Loudoun County Health Department has now identified more than 135 people who became ill after visiting the Chipotle on Tripleseven Road in Sterling the weekend of July 13.
The Health Department has also now confirmed that norovirus, or stomach flu, is the cause.
“Two ill patrons have tested positive for the same strain of norovirus. Based on symptoms reported and these preliminary laboratory results, the cause of the outbreak is believed to be norovirus, though the specific source of the norovirus has not yet been identified,” said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the health department.
On Monday, July 17, the health department was notified by Chipotle Mexican Grill on Tripleseven Road in Sterling and by local medical providers of customers complaining of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea over the previous two days.
The restaurant voluntarily closed that day to undergo “a complete sanitization,” and has been working closely with the health department to help identify the cause of the illnesses and to prevent future illnesses, including having health department staff onsite on July 18 and 19.
The outbreak is being investigated as a virus spread by a human carrier rather than a problem in the restaurant’s supply chain. Only the Sterling location was affected.
The restaurant reopened on July 19.
“The Health Department is not aware of any customers becoming ill since the reopening of the facility last Wednesday,” Goodfriend said.
The incident got national attention, in part because the company has had previous problems with viral outbreaks and contamination. A similar outbreak was reported at a Boston Chipotle restaurant in 2015, when 80 customers reported symptoms of the virus after eating there. Last year, the company had an E.coli contamination problem that hit its restaurants in 14 states.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated food each year. Norovirus (sometimes called “stomach flu”) is the most common cause of foodborne illness.
People infected with norovirus usually develop symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus and most people who are ill get better within one to three days. Frequent hand washing and staying home when sick are two of the most important means of preventing the spread of infection. More information on norovirus is available at www.cdc.gov/norovirus.