Illness among Maho guests believed to be Noro-virus

~Maho taking measures~

MAHO–The illness amongst guests at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino is believed to be a Noro-virus and the resort said it is doing its utmost to contain the spread of the virus.

Guests began falling ill with the stomach flu in recent weeks with the virus contained to three rooms as of mid-last week. However, after Wednesday, February 24, the guests in some 35 to 40 rooms at the Resort fell ill and up to Sunday guests were “getting better and the situation is still evolving,” the Resort told The Daily Herald on Sunday. The number of persons affected represents 10 per cent of the resort’s in-house guests.
Health Minister Emil Lee said on Sunday that tests conducted by the St. Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) as well as the final investigation report on the falling ill of guests at the Resort in the past days is expected to be completed by the end of this week. “The team could not rule out food as a source for the gastroenteritis. However, the preliminary conclusion is that based on the assessment of two involved physicians (Dr. Virginia Asin and Dr. Hidde Deketh) that there is a gastroenteritis virus involved, most probably Noro-virus,” Lee said in a press release in reaction to the falling ill of guests at the resort, including participants of the Leeward Islands Debating Competition.

This newspaper understands that at least one team left the island on Sunday ahead of the conclusion of the debate as its members were still ill.  

In the meantime, the Resort in a separate statement on Sunday wished the students a speedy recovery.

Lee said on Friday evening that he had been notified that a group of students involved in the debate had become ill. The Health Inspection Department and Collective Prevention Services (CPS) were notified and officials Dr. Asin and Maria Henry visited St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) to assess the situation. Patients, mostly consisting of debate students were suffering from vomiting. Lee said SMMC “had the situation under control” and students had been treated and discharged.

Asin then proceeded to Maho to assess the situation. Students were being treated for dehydration and no new cases were identified. “Protocols were established for the hotel which included having persons with vomiting and diarrhoea to remain in their rooms, notify guests and staff to adhere to proper hygiene procedures and have the hotel execute extra cleaning and disinfection procedures,” Lee said. “CPS staff worked until late in the night to ensure that everything at SMMC and Maho was under control.”

On Saturday, February 27, a joint team from CPS and the Health Inspectorate met at Maho to conduct interviews and inspections. Lee joined the team. The Minister said the team is approaching this situation objectively and professionally. “And just for the record, at no time were inspections or investigations halted or obstructed,” Lee said.

The Minister said the preliminary report on checks at Maho’s kitchens shows that “as far as hygiene and food handling in the kitchen at Maho are concerned, the Food Inspectors observed that the kitchens are in proper hygienic condition.”

Maho was urged to establish protocols to eliminate the spread of virus. “While the Ministry of Health certainly has a control and regulatory function, the Ministry also has an educational role. The Ministry should also be seen as a resource for the community to call on when it has a problem and needs advice on how to manage problems. We encourage the community to reach out for guidance and assistance whenever necessary. We are here to create a healthy and safe environment for the residents and visitors of St. Maarten,” Lee said.

In its statement, Maho said several cases of stomach flu had been reported at the resort in “the past weeks.” According to the Resort, as of February 24, the cases were “isolated to three rooms” in the hotel. The number of cases, however, increased after the debating teams, who began arriving on island on Wednesday and checked into the hotel, contracted the stomach flu.

“It’s unfortunate that these hard-working students fell ill during their stay in St. Maarten,” said Maho Group’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Saro Spadaro said. “We wish them a speedy recovery.”

Maho included in its press release statements made by Deketh, a general practitioner of the Mullet Bay Clinic on its request. Deketh was quoted as saying that viral gastroenteritis is not airborne, but is spread through the faecal-oral route. “Faecal-oral route means that people get contaminated by touching someone/something with the virus and not properly washing the hands or using disinfecting liquids for the hands before eating or touching their mouths. It is neither food poisoning, as it is not related to one kitchen or one buffet and as it comes with fever and body aches, which symptoms do not occur in food poisoning cases,” Deketh was quoted as saying in the Maho release. Deketh said he noticed an outbreak in gastro cases “is not only confined to Sonesta Maho, but also to other hotels” and schools in St. Maarten.

“This virus behaves like a Noro-virus, known for outbreaks in the cruise ships as well as hotels, and has the notoriety of being very contagious, usually taking just 24 – 48 hours to settle.” He urged persons in St. Maarten to “be very careful” with hygiene and wash their hands thoroughly plus use disinfectants (soaps, gels, liquids) to avoid getting infected or spreading infection to others.

He said Maho had taken these measures and is advising tourists and staff as well of disinfecting surfaces and affected hotel rooms.

“Sonesta Maho is working closely with food inspectors and preliminary inspections found that the kitchens at the hotel are in proper hygiene. An enhanced sanitation programme continues to be deployed by the hotel, as well as a guest care programme where management calls ill guests in their rooms throughout the day to check on their well-being and offers Gatorade to encourage re-hydration as well as room service meals utilising disposable cutlery and service items.”

“Being ill on vacation is not the memory we want our guests to go home with,” said Spadaro. “Our primary concern is our guests’ well-being.”

Source: The Daily Herald Illness among Maho guests believed to be Noro-virus