CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (WVEC) -- Shortly after a popular Chincoteague food event ended on Saturday, dozens of attendees started reporting on social media sites that they had become ill with fever and gastrointestinal symptoms after eating food at the event.
The Eastern Shore Health District says it is investigating “a cluster of illnesses” that may be related to the Chincoteague Chili Chowder Cook Off.
In a news release, the health district said it is asking people who attended the cookoff on Sept. 30 to contact the Accomack County Health Department at 757-302-4268.
“We are investigating a cluster of illnesses that may be related to the event. Some attendees have already come forward but we need more information,” the health district said in the news release.
“If you or someone you know attended the event, we need to hear from you. Please contact us at 757-302-4268,” it said.
The fire company sponsors the annual event, which was held Sept. 30 at the Chincoteague carnival grounds.
"We are in contact with the Accomack County Health Department and are working with them in their investigation to determine the source of the problem," the post stated, adding the event in its 18-year history "has never experienced anything like this and rest assured we will be working diligently to make sure this never happens again."
A Delaware woman, who said she took her husband to a hospital emergency department because of the severity of his symptoms, said in a post on the Chincoteague Island Locals and Guests Facebook page that hundreds of people had been affected.
The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company is aware of the situation, a post on the fire company's Facebook page said.
Food vendors at temporary events in Virginia are required to obtain a permit from the local health department, which must be posted where the public can see it, according to the Virginia Department of Health website.
Restaurants and other establishments that hold a valid permanent VDH Food Establishment Permit do not need to obtain an additional permit as long as food served at the event is prepared in accordance with the Board of Health food regulations, according to the health department.
About one in six Americans each year becomes ill from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of that number — totaling about 48 million people —128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 people die.
Symptoms of foodborne disease typically include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Additional symptoms may include fever, headache, malaise, muscle ache, loss of appetite, weight loss, chills and dehydration.
In addition, serious illness sometimes can follow a gastrointestinal illness, including a severe kidney condition called HUS that can happen after illness caused by E.coli infections.
In Virginia, the most frequently reported gastrointestinal diseases include bacterial infections such as salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis and a parasitic disease called giardiasis.
The Virginia Health Department Office of Epidemiology's Division of Surveillance and Investigation monitors all outbreaks in the state.