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Flamingo guests find norovirus isn't funny



John and Martin McCurdy, who say they became ill from a norovirus outbreak at the Flamingo Las Vegas, argue they would not have become sick if men who identified themselves as "ghostbusters" had told them they were trying to rid the hotel of the virus.

"As my brother and I were walking to our room last Friday, these men were coming toward us dressed in white, head-to-toe jumpsuits with hoods and surgical masks," Martin McCurdy said Wednesday from Oregon. "At the time, I thought they might be wearing those hazmat suits, but when we asked them what they were doing, they just laughed and said, 'We're ghostbusters.' "

Had they known the crew was trying to get rid of germs that cause the vomit and diarrhea-inducing norovirus, instead of suggesting they were capturing ghosts as Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray did in the movie "Ghostbusters," the McCurdys said they never would have stayed at the hotel.

And they say they wouldn't now be represented by attorneys who have filed a lawsuit against Caesars Entertainment, owners of the Flamingo Las Vegas.

The Seattle-based law firm, Marler Clark, which has won millions representing victims of foodborne illnesses, alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Clark County District Court that the Flamingo didn't take reasonable measures to alert guests of the illness and to prevent its spread.

Caesars officials said there have been 325 confirmed cases of the illness, meaning employees or patrons have been treated by medical personnel.

Robert Stewart, a spokesman for Caesars, said another 700 persons have called the hotel complaining of gastrointestinal distress after staying or visiting there. He said he understands another 600 persons have called the health district.

Stewart said the men in the white suits, seen regularly at the hotel with squirt bottles full of cleaning fluid since the norovirus outbreak began two weeks ago, have been told to tell patrons they are "cleaning."

"At no time have we told them to identify themselves as ghostbusters," he said. "We don't regard this as funny. The health of our guests and employees is paramount to us."

Norovirus is the second most common virus reported in the United States after the cold. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that norovirus causes an estimated 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis nationwide. It usually runs its course in 72 hours, but it has caused deaths in those in fragile health.

The norovirus is found in the stool and vomit of infected people and is spread by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with the virus; touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes; and having direct contact with someone who has the virus.

Dave Tonelli, a spokesman for the Clark County Health District, said, "The most effective weapon against norovirus is washing your hands."

Tonelli said Caesars officials have been very cooperative with health authorities, informing the health district on Oct. 20 that they suspected something amiss when several employees and guests took ill. Tonelli said the health district expects to have an official report of those affected by the virus out today.

"We have put up signs around the hotel informing people about the virus and put letters in our guests' rooms," Stewart said. "We have wanted to do the right thing."

John McCurdy, a 52-year-old engineer, is from Seattle, and his 42-year-old brother, Martin, a graphic artist, is from Portland, Ore. They were vacationing in Las Vegas last weekend.

The McCurdys contend the hotel should have instructed front desk personnel to alert incoming guests about norovirus and put larger signs on walls where they're easily seen.

"My brother and I didn't know anything about the norovirus until we were leaving the hotel," Martin McCurdy said. "When someone in line for a taxi asked if I had a good time, I mentioned that we got sick. And then they told me about the norovirus. That's when I understood what those ghostbusters were really up to."

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