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Norovirus outbreak linked to $1 burrito special for Northwestern University students

Norovirus outbreak linked to taco shop in downtown Evanston
Norovirus outbreak linked to taco shop in downtown Evanston 02:11

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) -- A deal for $1 burritos at a downtown Evanston restaurant turned out to be bad news for Northwestern students and Evanston residents.

The Evanston Health and Human Services Department warned Wednesday that it was tracking a norovirus outbreak linked to the burrito special.

The department is investigating the outbreak along with Northwestern University. Investigators have learned that people reported stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea after eating at Big Wig Tacos & Burritos during an event on Saturday, Nov. 18, at which the restaurant offered $1 burritos to students from the university.

The event was held between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. this past Saturday. Big Wig Tacos & Burritos has a location at 950 Church St. in downtown Evanston.

Soon afterward, the Evanston Health and Human Services Department began receiving complaints – prompting an immediate inspection of Big Wig Tacos & Burritos. The department reviewed the restaurant's cleaning and sanitizing procedures, and found that the restaurant does have an employee health policy.

Big Wig has fully cooperated with the investigation, the department said.

Everyone who dined at Big Wig Tacos & Burritos in Evanston on Saturday, Nov. 18, is asked to complete this questionnaire, regardless of whether they got sick.

Norovirus is often called the "stomach flu," but has nothing to do with influenza.

"It's its own virus," said Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Norovirus can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain.

In cases like these, Dr. Wallace said the virus likely spread via the food.

"Handwashing is super important for prevention, and that's why every single bathroom at every eating establishment you see has, 'Employees must wash hands before returning to work' - because this is really important when you're preparing food for people," Wallace said. "That's a main way that this spreads in a restaurant environment — somebody with norovirus uses their bare hands, unwashed, to prepare food."

The virus can also spread through surfaces, liquids, and person-to-person. It is unclear how many students were affected.

"Norovirus usually last between one and three days," Wallace said. "It can be a very miserable couple of days for people."

Wallace emphasized the need for hydration in the event of a norovirus infection.

"It sometimes can lead to hospitalizations. It usually doesn't," she said. "But it's important for those people to drink a lot of water - because what actually causes the disease to get severe is when people get dehydrated."

We reached out to Big Wig Tacos & Burritos but did not hear back late Wednesday. However, the president of the restaurant Jose Estrada posted the following statement on Facebook:

"We want to address recent reports of a norovirus outbreak linked to our Evanston Location. Understanding that norovirus outbreaks are more common in settings like colleges and universities, we want to emphasize our commitment to the health and well-being of our patrons and staff.

While there have been reported cases, we are not certain that the outbreak originated at our restaurant. Prior to the event, the Evanston Health Department completed a routine health inspection and found no issues with our establishment. Nevertheless, we are taking immediate and comprehensive measures to address the situation. We are taking extra steps to thoroughly clean and sanitize, with a particular focus on areas that may be susceptible to the transmission of viruses.

In collaboration with local health authorities, we are actively participating in the investigation to determine the source and extent of the outbreak. Our staff members are being closely monitored for symptoms, and no staff member has shown signs of symptoms.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to us directly on our Facebook Page. We are committed to keeping our community informed and appreciate your understanding during these challenging times."

We want to address recent reports of a norovirus outbreak linked to our Evanston Location. Understanding that norovirus...

Posted by Big Wig Tacos on Wednesday, November 22, 2023

When we stopped by the Evanston location, the restaurant appeared to be closing for the day.

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