A Christmas lunch among some Royal Inland Hospital operating room staff turned into a party for a virus that made 40 participants sick.
The departmental illness has led to the cancellation of a total of 26 surgeries on Thursday and Friday together, RIH administrator Marg Brown said Friday.
Most of the ailing employees work in the operating room or recovery room, she said.
"The illness started showing up around Wednesday evening — a few people had called in sick. Thursday morning a lot of people felt unwell," she said.
"It came off as a quick and sudden nasty onset with very little warning. It's a gastrointestinal illness. They're investigating it."
Emergency surgeries were still done, but the cancelled patients will have to have their procedures rescheduled.
The catered Christmas lunch was held on Tuesday. Brown said she doesn't like to be grinchy, but she does discourage departmental potlucks or gatherings centred around food because illnesses can be spread in a snack bowl.
"The one thing is in these kind of seasonal times we really encourage people not to be sharing food," she said.
Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Rob Parker said tests are still being done, but it's assumed the staff picked up a bug like the norovirus, which spreads easily and is commonplace at this time of year.
Symptoms included nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and were limited to one particular department.
"Based on that initial conversation, it sounded like a routine viral gastroenteritis," said Parker.
"The commonest cause is norovirus. And it peaks in winter."
So far, no patients have shown signs of contracting the illness.
"It just seemed to be this one event."
Food poisoning has been ruled out because it usually hits within 10 hours. A viral or bacterial illness takes longer — one to two days — to really make people sick, he said.
Health-care staff who get sick with something that appears to be infectious are told to stay away from work for two days after their symptoms are resolved, said Parker.
The same rule of thumb is given to parents sending their recovering kids to school.
"We can try and limit its effects and spread by good hand washing," he advised.
The good news is, if it is norovirus the recovery is usually quick and staff should be back on the job next week, said Parker.
"The impact is usually four to five days away from work."
Brown said the affected staff is specialized, but the silver lining is that on the weekend only enough to cover emergency surgeries are needed.
There are enough employees to handle that and by early next week, the ailing workers should be recovering and heading back to work.