Duke players spread '98 virus

Associated Press

College football players sick with food poisoning transmitted the virus to the opposing team on the field in the first documented case of its kind in sports, researchers say.

The Duke players vomited in the locker room and on the sidelines during the Sept. 19, 1998 game against Florida State, which they lost, 62-13. The virus then spread to the other team.

"The only contact between the two teams was on the playing field," said Dr. Christine Moe, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The virus was passed by people touching each other's contaminated hands, uniforms and maybe even the football itself.

Game films showed ill Duke players with vomit on their jerseys colliding with opponents, and Duke players wiping their mouthpieces on their hands, then touching opponents' faces and later shaking their hands.

In a study in today's New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers urged coaches to bench players with such illnesses and stress the importance of hand washing when ill and after using the bathroom.

The food-and water-borne virus, which is from a family called Norwalk-like viruses because the first outbreak was detected at a Norwalk, Ohio school in the late 1960s, causes vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea.

This is the first documented case of transmission among participants in a sports event, according to Karen Becker, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who led the study.

Many Duke players and staff fell ill by game time, a day after they ate contaminated turkey sandwiches in a box lunch, Becker said.

DNA testing allowed the researchers to determine that players on the two teams had the same rare virus strain, proving the Florida State athletes could only have been infected on the field.