Belgian authorities have temporarily closed an events venue linked to more than 50 Shigella infections.

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) and the Flemish Departement Zorg reported that over recent weekends, people had been infected with Shigella after attending the Zandberghoeve venue in Beernem. The source of contamination may be an infected person or a contaminated food or object.

Earlier this year, Zorg en Gezondheid (The Flemish Care and Health Agency) merged with another body to form Departement Zorg.

Illnesses over two weekends
Authorities ordered the party hosting site to close as a precautionary measure. FASFC, also known as AFSCA or FAVV, also asked an external cleaning firm to disinfect the premises.

Around 50 people who went to an event organized at Zandberghoeve on the weekend of Sept. 2 fell sick. Investigations by the Departement Zorg found no more cases among other groups at the site that weekend.

However, in a group of eight people who attended the restaurant on Sept. 9, six of them are showing symptoms of shigellosis. In one person, the infection was confirmed.

Health officials said it was possible that additional cases will be identified in other clusters.

Hélène Bonte, spokesperson for FASFC, said: “We are investigating the source of contamination in collaboration with the Departement Zorg. In this context, our staff took food samples as well as environmental samples. To date, FASFC and the Departement Zorg have not yet reached a conclusion. In order to protect the consumer, we are therefore forced to temporarily close the entire Zandberghoeve.”

The Departement Zorg is handling enquiries to detect potential positives amongst staff. Stool samples have been taken from food handlers who served the first group. An analysis is being undertaken at Sciensano, the national public health institute. Several stool samples have also been taken from all staff members. They can only return to work if results show they are not carrying the bacteria.

Health officials are also interviewing staff and guests about commonalities and shared contacts between the groups with illness cases. Based on the results of all samples taken, and after cleaning the site, FASFC and Departement Zorg will assess when Zandberghoeve can reopen to the public.

Pork tapeworm cases
Meanwhile, three children from the same primary school in Lier were diagnosed with pork tapeworm infections in June. Department Zorg is still investigating the source but said the risk of more infections was extremely small.

The pork tapeworm, also called Taenia solium, is very rare in Belgium and Europe. This means the source is likely contaminated food of foreign origin.

During the summer holidays, tests of stools from about 50 teachers and family members and people involved in preparing food were taken with results expected soon. The agency also asked parents about possible travel to areas where pork tapeworm occurs and their dietary patterns. Information sessions were held at the school and parents were asked to look out for symptoms such as headaches and vision problems.

Joris Moonens, a Departement Zorg spokesman, said the only link known so far is that the children go to the same school.

“We currently have no hypothesis as to where the children could have become infected. The infections could also have happened years ago and are only now causing symptoms. We must take into account that we will not be able to find out where the source of the contamination was. Nevertheless, we estimate the chance of further infections to be extremely small.”

About Shigella
Shigella bacteria cause an infection called shigellosis. Most infected people have diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Symptoms usually begin a couple of days after infection and last a week.

Shigellosis is caught through direct person-to-person contact with an infected individual via contaminated food, water or objects. The dose needed for infection is negligible. Food-related outbreaks are often caused by infected food handlers, who contaminate ready-to-eat items.

Handwashing with soap and water is essential, especially after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food. There is no vaccine to prevent Shigella infection. People with shigellosis should not attend school, handle food, or provide child or patient care while ill. They should also stay at home for 48 hours after symptoms have ceased. 

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