Approximately 90 young players and adults from nine youth football teams were sickened by a “nasty” stomach virus while in Las Vegas for their championship games this weekend, according to the tournament organizers and the Clark County Fire Department.
“It started with a team telling us they had a couple of sick kids, which frankly happens every single year,” said Justin Gates, a competition director with Sports Network International Inc., the group that organizes the National Youth Football Championships.
But Gates said it quickly became clear that the illness was far more widespread, with miserable players, parents and coaches throwing up and experiencing other flu-like symptoms.
“We didn’t think much about it on Wednesday night until we started getting reports later Thursday of more people on different teams being affected,” he said.
By Friday night, the illness was flattening players like an all-star linebacker.
The Clark County Fire Department responded to a call at about 10 a.m. on Friday from members of a team from Santa Monica, Calif., who were staying at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, Officer Fernandez J Leary told NBC News.
"We evaluated 21 people on scene and 18 of them were transported to a local hospital," Leary added.
Gates said other affected teams -- including two local teams and one from Colorado -- were staying in different hotels. Some players and their family’s feared food poisoning and went to local hospitals for treatment on their own, but emergency room doctors ruled that out.
“That’s what had the Health Department scratching their heads, there wasn’t one common factor,” he said.
The Health Department of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas worked with the Center for Disease Control to determine the cause after players from other teams started getting sick, Gates said. They eventually identified "a nasty stomach virus” as the culprit, he said.
Jorge Viote, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Health District, confirmed Saturday that investigators suspect that a stomach virus caused the outbreak but are continuing to investigate. The CDC referred questions about the outbreak to the local health department.
Despite the spate of sickness, Gates said the championship games were proceeding as scheduled, with the final games being played on Saturday
“Luckily as strong as it is, the harder it comes on the quicker it goes,” he said, noting that many players were already feeling well enough to play.
He also noted that the number of affected players was a small portion of the 7,000 on hand to participate in the games.
Nonetheless, event organizers were implementing procedures to prevent further spread of the virus, he said, including banning the traditional pre-game and post-game handshakes.
“It would be silly to think if somebody got sick because we had them shake hands,” he said.