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Health Department: Possible Norovirus Outbreak At Chuck E. Cheese

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - The Department of Health is investigating a possible Norovirus outbreak at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Woodbury.

Fred Anderson is an epidemiologist with the Washington County Department of Health and is investigating the possible outbreak.

"We believe this is a Norovirus outbreak," Anderson said. "Multiple individuals becoming ill several hours after their event at Chuck E. Cheese."

Patrons started calling the Minnesota Department of Health on Monday morning.

Norovirus isn't the flu or food poisoning.

"It's a food infection," said Anderson. "This is gastrointestinal illness with vomiting, diarrhea, nausea."

It takes anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to set in and is easily spread.

"People having gone to the bathroom and not washing their hands adequately and then transmission through contact with ready-to-eat food items," said Anderson, "or from contact with surfaces that other people come in contact with, and then they ingest something once their hands are contaminated."

So far the Washington County DOH has talked to 60 people who were at Chuck E. Cheese over the weekend, and 70 percent were infected.

Anderson said the restaurant closed down Tuesday afternoon for deep cleaning and re-opened again Wednesday afternoon.

"We've been working with the facility," he said. "They've been very cooperative. They've been doing a great deal of cleaning and employee screening."

Barring any ongoing issues at the restaurant, the DOH is hoping to wrap up the investigation soon.

But the threat for families could last a few more days.

"The virus is very hardy and can survive on [multiple] surfaces," said Anderson.

Anderson said secondary cases are very common for those in contact with, or in the same area as, those who were sick.

"People continue to shed that virus for several days after they've recovered from the illness," said Anderson, recommending they "take good care of themselves at home and have scrupulous personal hygiene--the simple things like not sharing the same common towel in the bathroom."

Chuck E. Cheese released a statement Wednesday saying they take the health and safety of all their guests very seriously.

Here's the full statement from Chuck E. Cheese:

We are aware of a potential incident in the Woodbury, Minn., store. Although the Health Department has not reached any conclusion about the nature of the incident, the store performed extra sanitization processes, in addition to our ongoing cleaning regimen. We have been working closely with the Health Department to ensure they can diagnose any issues and avoid future concerns. We take the health and safety of all of our guests and employees very seriously.

In consideration for the health and safety of our guests, every Chuck E. Cheese's store cleans and sanitizes bathrooms, showrooms, gamerooms, SkyTubes and other areas many times a day. All employees are required to obtain food handling certification and receive extensive training in food safety and sanitation practices. While the strongest measures don't always prevent incidents like this, we are committed to examining any occurrence and working to continuously improve.

Our goal is to ensure a positive, family-friendly environment. Maintaining a wholesome, safe experience that sets a standard across our more than 560 locations is of utmost importance to Chuck E. Cheese's, and we will never stop working to improve how we operate our business. We will continue to work with the Health Department and will provide updates as they become available.

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