The mysterious Oscar virus is identified. But health officials still don't know how hundreds of Academy Awards banquet guests became infected
Charlize Theron
Credit: Charlize Theron: Sebastian Artz/Getty Images

Something made a lot of Academy members and honorees violently ill a couple weeks ago, and it wasn’t the thought of sitting through another screening of ”Tomcats.” More than a week after a mystery ailment struck several hundred attendees of the Academy’s March 2 awards dinner for scientific and technical achievement prize winners, investigators from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services have identified the cause of the illness as a ”Norwalk-type virus,” part of a strain that causes a couple days of gastroenteritis, with symptoms that include nausea and diarrhea.

”It’s sometimes called Winter Vomiting Disease,” says Dr. Roshan Reporter, a department physician involved in the investigation. ”We’re having a lot of it in our community right now.” She says her office has spoken to some 200 afflicted guests among the 500 who attended the Charlize Theron-hosted banquet at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. (Theron was not among those who reported falling ill.)

”They’ve determined it’s not related to our food handling procedures,” hotel public relations director Deborah Damask told last week. That’s true, says Dr. Reporter, who explains, ”We didn’t find any problems at the hotel. They were very well educated about food handling. They were following all the procedures.” However, despite the hotel’s rigorous hygiene, she says the virus could still have been food-borne. ”The virus can get into food or ice. A food handler could be sick and not be aware and could contaminate the food.”

The menu that night included salad, lobster bisque, roast beef, halibut, cooked vegetables, pastry desserts, and fruit. As to which, if any, of these items might have borne the virus, Reporter says, ”Sometimes multiple food items can appear to be a source, and we can’t identify which one it was.”

Reporter says the department plans to keep doing tests on food items and individual food handlers for about another week. ”Right now, it looks like whatever caused the problem is gone. It loooks like it was limited to this one banquet.” Once the source of the virus is located, ”we will make additional recommendations to the hotel regarding proper hygiene, which they may already be following.”

Meantime, the Academy staged another catered meal, Monday’s Oscar nominees’ luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hilton, without incident. The only thing unclean there was Russell Crowe’s limerick.