The number of Boston College students sickened after eating at a local Chipotle Mexican Grill has jumped from 30 to more than 120, and Boston Public Health Department officials have confirmed that the illness was caused by the so-called vomiting bug, norovirus. The source of the outbreak, however, remains under investigation.
Authorities have centered on the Cleveland Circle Chipotle location, which was closed after reports of illnesses. The Boston outbreak is the latest in a string of foodborne illnesses linked to Chipotle restaurants across the country.
Last month, the burrito chain closed 43 restaurants in Seattle and Portland after at least 47 people were infected with E.coli, a bacteria that causes abdominal cramping and severe and occasionally bloody diarrhea. Two months earlier, tomatoes at restaurants in Minnesota were linked to dozens of cases of diarrhea-causing salmonella infections. Earlier this year, a single Chipotle restaurant in California was blamed for infecting about 100 people with norovirus.
Boston College students who fell ill were tested for E.coli but none were found to have the illness. Health officials say symptoms were also not consistent with E.coli.
“We agree with health officials that it is likely a norovirus, which seems very consistent with the pattern here,” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told ABC News. “It is important to note that noroviruses are very common, in part because they are so easily transmitted (they can spread through person-to-person contact, on surface areas, or through food or drink). According to the CDC, there are approximately 20 million cases a year, making them the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S.”
Health officials say that since so many Boston College students were sickened at the same time, investigators will likely be focusing their investigation on a common source of the outbreak.