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Travellers quarantine themselves in Whistler after contracting Norwalk

Handwashing best defence against virus



More than 30 tourists quarantined themselves in a Whistler hotel Monday with suspected Norwalk virus.

"What we are advising is for them to stay in their hotel rooms until they feel better," said Dr. Paul Martiquet, public health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

Said Fairmont Chateau Whistler spokesman Lynn Gervais: "They are mostly requesting gingerale and toast."

At this time of year when tour business increases, said Gervais, hotel staff is always on alert for this type of incident.

"It is very contained and they are being really well taken care of," she said.

"...We are always prepared for this. This is not new for anyone in the tourism or hospitality industry. We are professionals and we are used to handling the situation."

The 30 travellers were all fully examined by a doctor Tuesday morning. Only eight decided to voluntarily stay quarantined in Whistler while the rest re-joined their tour group, Australian-based Scenic Tours. No one from the company could be reached for comment.

This is the second time in as many weeks that travellers have come down with Norwalk after reaching Whistler.

The tour companies were different, said Martiquet, but the itinerary for the Australian tourists was the same.

"I think that obviously there is something that they are all experiencing in common that is somewhere between Calgary and Whistler," he said.

The travellers stay in Alberta hotels for a few nights, then travel by train to Vancouver, and by bus on to Whistler. They also take buses in Alberta.

Martiquet said all levels of health agencies, federal and provincial, have been in touch with those affected to make sure they know how to stem the spread of the virus. That would include laundry services in hotels where sheets and towels must be washed separately and buses that need to be disinfected if travellers vomit in them.

"We're not going to be able to pinpoint this," said Martiquet adding that there are cases reported in Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.

But "a bus, like cruise ships, is a great way to spread germs if you don't have good hand hygiene.

"So we have been advising all these bus participants to make sure that their hygiene is up to snuff."

Rigorous and frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid Norwalk or any virus.

Ian Robertson of the Rocky Mountaineer confirmed that the travellers were on the train from Calgary on May 25 and 26 several days before symptoms showed up.

They did not take the Whistler Mountaineer up to the resort from Vancouver.

"We have done a thorough review of all of our guests that arrived in Friday, and all of our crew, and no one has reported any Norwalk-like symptoms on the train, nor has anyone since," said Robertson, adding that the company has been on a heightened level of cleanliness since the recent outbreak of the H1N1 "swine flu" virus.

"At this point it does not look like the common connection is Rocky Mountaineer at all."

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