CHEROKEE

Workers are cleaning slot machines with bleach every two hours as a North Carolina casino battles a virus that has sickened nearly 250 people.

Harrah's Cherokee Casino and Hotel is wiping down its 3,300 slot machines with a bleach and water mix around the clock. The outbreak since Jan. 12 has caused intestinal troubles including vomiting and diarrhea.

Door knobs, escalator handrails and restrooms are being sanitized hourly.

Casino spokesman Charles Pringle says that the culprit is a norovirus that is sometimes a problem on cruise ships and at schools.

The casino remains safe to visit because relatively few of the 7,500 daily visitors have gotten sick, state epidemiologist David Bergmire-Sweat said. The virus is more contagious than the common flu, and is spread by touching surfaces that infected people have touched, he said.

The 11-year-old casino is in the midst of an expansion to double the casino floor, add a third hotel tower, and build more parking decks and retail space. The complex is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and operated by Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

Aggressive cleaning has slowed the outbreak, said Dr. Martha Salyers of the state's regional public health surveillance team.

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