"Winter Vomiting Disease" Strikes Tucson

At least 60 people in Tucson have been infected with a suspected outbreak of a virus known as the "winter vomiting disease," according to the Pima County Health Department.

Officials say the outbreak started in late February at the Oro Valley Country Club, which began a three-day shutdown on Saturday after club officials continued to get scattered reports that members were coming down with the sickness.

Managers at the club have been disinfecting the facilities, but health workers told CBS affiliate KOLD-TV the virus continues to spread.

The illness apparently emerged during the country club's Oro Valley Ladies Invitational, which ended on Feb. 27, health department officials said. About 120 women participated, including about 60 who were not club members.

Ann Rogers, the golf tournament's chairwoman, said she first received a call from two people complaining of virus symptoms on Feb. 28.

"They said they had a stomachache in the middle of the night and started throwing up," Rogers said.

After calling more people who had been at the tournament, Rogers said there were enough people affected to call the health department.

Because of the symptoms and how fast the disease has been transmitted, officials with the Arizona Department of Health Services believe the cause is a norovirus, agency spokeswoman Patti Woodcock said. That has not yet been confirmed.

Noroviruses can cause stomach-related distress such as sudden-onset vomiting, diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps.

Woodcock said norovirus outbreaks occur regularly and that the county department has investigated five other incidents during the past few months. However, she said this is the first time the disease appears to have spread from one place to another in Pima County.

"It is now progressing," she said. "People are passing it and passing it and passing it. It appears that the problem wasn't recognized quickly enough by staff to stem the spread of the infection. People who played at the country club went and played at other country clubs."

Woodcock said a food handler at the Oro Valley Country Club who worked while ill is believed to be the first to transmit the illness. She said the virus has spread to two other golf clubs, but declined to release their names, citing the ongoing investigation.

Jeff Sindelar, general manager of the Oro Valley Country Club, said club officials don't know of any employee who worked while sick.

"If you were an employee and you had the virus, you show no symptoms of it, what do you do about it? How do you know you are not passing it on to everybody?" Sindelar told the Arizona Daily Star.

Woodcock said no one has been hospitalized and that a healthy person exposed to the virus usually recovers within two days.

She said the virus can be dangerous to the elderly or other medically vulnerable people.

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