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At least 434 sickened in norovirus outbreak at 2 El Toro restaurants; lawsuit filed

TACOMA, Wash. — The number of people sickened in a norovirus outbreak at two El Toro Restaurant locations in the Tacoma area has risen to 434, the Health Department said Friday. Meanwhile, the first lawsuit was filed against the food chain.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said it has 423 cases of norovirus so far from customers who ate at El Toro’s Tacoma location at 5716 N. 26th St.. The restaurant in University Place, 3820 Bridgeport Way W., has 11 cases, the department said.

Both restaurants were temporarily closed for cleaning and sanitizing.

“Reports from people who say they got sick after dining at the restaurants have slowed down,” the Health Department said Friday.

"The outbreak started at the restaurant in Tacoma’s Westgate neighborhood. The Health Department closed the restaurant Jan. 8 after receiving the first reports of illness. The Department worked with the restaurant to ensure it was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before it reopened Jan. 9," the department said.

"On Jan. 11, the Department received confirmation from the state’s Public Health Laboratories that a customer who ate at the Tacoma restaurant during the onset period tested positive for norovirus.

"On Jan. 10, the Health Department received illness reports from diners who ate at the El Toro Restaurant in University Place. The restaurant followed the same protocol and closed for cleaning and sanitizing. It reopened on Jan. 11.

"Two staff members at the Tacoma location worked while ill during the time customers dined and later got sick. It’s still unclear if the outbreaks at the two locations are connected," the department said.

On Friday, the first lawsuit against the El Toro Inc. chain was filed in Pierce County Superior County for unspecified damages. The suit, filed by a former customer named Ericka Cecchi. She said she was sickened after eating at the Tacoma location -- and lab tests confirmed she had norovirus. She claims the restaurants’ owners were negligent and breached their duty to provide properly handled food.

According to the Mayo Clinic, norovirus infection can cause the sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. "The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation or contaminated surfaces. You can also be infected through close contact with an infected person," it said.

"Diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting typically begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Norovirus symptoms last one to three days, and most people recover completely without treatment. However, for some people — especially infants, older adults and people with underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention," Mayo Clinic said.