Norovirus Outbreaks and Handwashing

Jan 23, 2012 | Anna Tomasulo | Outbreak News

At the recent Canadian University Press national conference in Victoria, Canada, more than one third of the 370 attendees were struck with norovirus.

According to USA Today, 165 conference attendees and Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites staff members fell ill. As norovirus is extremely contagious, sick attendees remained isolated in their hotel rooms until they were well enough to travel. Fortunately for them, fees for flight changes and rooms were waived.

The general manager of the hotel informed the Victoria Times Colonist, a local paper, that the hotel has been through a thorough cleaning and that employees will continue to wipe down surfaces with bleach “to make sure nothing is lingering.”

Noroviruses cause acute gastroenteritis (vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea) in humans. Noroviruses are commonly known as “stomach flu” or “food poisoning.” This group of viruses can be spread from person to person, through food and water, and through fomites (any inanimate object that has the ability to carry an infectious organism). It is extremely difficult to control norovirus outbreaks because people can be contagious from the onset of illness to anywhere between three days and two weeks after recovery. However, there are certain preventive measures that can be taken to decrease the risk of getting sick. Hands should be washed carefully with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and before preparing foods. If you are sick, it is best not to prepare foods for others, and to clean and disinfect surfaces.

There are no vaccines or drug-specific treatments for people suffering from norovirus. The CDC recommends paying careful attention to rehydration due to severe loss of water when affected with vomiting and diarrhea.

There is no real immunity to norovirus and new strains do occur, so there are norovirus outbreaks throughout the year. The majority of norovirus outbreaks (over eighty percent) do, however, occur between the months of November and April.

Currently, the French news is reporting a gastroenteritis epidemic in five of its twenty-seven regions: Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Limousin, Haute-Normandie, Champagne-Ardenne, and Nord-Pas-de-Calais. According to French press, the median age of cases is twenty-five. French doctors remind people to continue to wash hands.


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