KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It has not been a great couple of months for Chipotle Mexican Grill. First there was an outbreak of E. coli in the Pacific Northwest. Now the fast food chain has been linked to more than a hundred cases of food poisoning in Boston. But the two outbreaks appear to come from very different sources. NPR's Dan Charles explains.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: On Sunday night, the starting center on Boston College's basketball team couldn't start. He was sick. By halftime, another player was in the locker room throwing up. The next day, six more basketball players were sick, and dozens of students were in the college's health clinic. All of them had recently eaten at a nearby Chipotle.
Some people thought this might be of part of another larger outbreak that started more than a month ago affecting people that ate at Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. But tests show the Boston College outbreak is different. The illnesses in Oregon and Washington were caused by a deadly kind of E. coli bacteria. The students at Boston College picked up something called norovirus.
ARON HALL: Norovirus is actually the No. 1 cause of foodborne illness.
CHARLES: This is Aron Hall, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I reached him on his cell phone at a scientific meeting about norovirus outbreaks.
HALL: Out of all domestically acquired foodborne illness, norovirus is responsible for an estimated 58 percent.
CHARLES: So more than everything else combined.
HALL: That's correct.
CHARLES: It makes headlines when it shuts down the occasional cruise ship, but otherwise, it doesn't get as much attention as disease-causing E. coli and salmonella, probably because it isn't as life-threatening.
HALL: Most people that get norovirus infection have a relatively mild illness. They'll be sick for about one to three days.
CHARLES: Norovirus is different from E. coli and salmonella in another way, too. Those bacteria live in animals, and it's easy for them to contaminate raw beef or poultry or fresh produce and then infect people. So in the case of the E. coli outbreak, investigators are looking for contaminated ingredients. Norovirus really only lives in people. Food is just one way that it hitches a ride from one infected person to another.
HALL: Most common scenario is an infected food worker who had bare-hand contact with food that are ready to eat.
CHARLES: Health inspectors in Boston visited the Chipotle location near Boston College on Monday and cited it for allowing a sick employee to work last Thursday. The officials did not say what sort of illness the employee had. As for the basketball team, it's scheduled to play Providence this evening with any players who can make it. Dan Charles, NPR News.
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