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Norovirus suspected among Las Vegas football tournament participants

The highly contagious norovirus might be to blame for the illness of more than a dozen children and at least a half dozen adults at the Rio on Friday morning.

The virus is one of the more potent strains of what many people erroneously refer to as the stomach flu. It can be deadly among the elderly and children, particularly if they have weakened immune systems.

While the Southern Nevada Health District had not confirmed it was norovirus by Saturday afternoon, health authorities were treating it as such, handing out pamphlets to staff and guests at the off-Strip hotel-casino.

They also were admonishing those who have fallen sick to be sure and wash their hands, try to avoid public places, and clean up after themselves in areas believed to be infected — from door knobs to bath tubs to toilets to chairs to tables to anything else they conceivably may have touched while in town for the National Youth Football Championship.

The ages of the football players ranged from 7 to 12 years old.

“We’re talking about gastrointestinal symptoms,” said health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore. “It’s what people refer to as the stomach flu, although the reality is that it’s a gastrointestinal virus; and to be on the safe side, that’s exactly how we’re treating it.”

Symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, dizziness when standing up and worse — dehydration.

Those the virus strikes are urged to drink plenty of water. Antibiotics will not help because norovirus is not bacterial.

Clark County firefighters were called to the hotel-casino’s sixth floor just before 10 a.m. Friday. They found shuttle bus drivers who were delivering ill children to hospitals.

Fire Department Battalion Chief John Steinbeck said three fire engines, one firetruck and two ambulances responded.

“It’s not every day that we get a call concerning 21 patients on the sixth floor of a hotel,” he said. “And when we do, you can bet we’re going to be prepared for anything.”

Firefighters early on were treating the outbreak as a possible food-borne ailment.

The football tournament ended on Saturday.

Mhoon Land, of Los Angeles, said he’s thankful that his 12-year-old son of the same name got to play for the Santa Monica Vikings as defensive end, and that he didn’t become ill.

Land said at one point, he rushed a telephone charger over to University Medical Center to one of the sick parents.

“At was the least I could do,” he said as he stood inside the casino late Friday evening, recalling the scene earlier in the day. “I just want to make sure that I don’t get it.”

Sizemore said stool samples were taken from several patients, and that health authorities should know more in a week or two.

In the meantime, the health district will be working with the hotel staff to make sure staff is properly equipped with the right cleaning products, she said.

“There are special guidelines for cleaning up,” she said.

The corporate office of Caesears Entertainment, which operates the Rio, could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

Contact reporter Tom Ragan at tragan@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.

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