Noroviruses Food Poisoning

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu,” in humans. These viruses may also be referred to as Norwalk-like viruses or caliciviruses. Vomiting, diarrhea, and fever typically characterize norovirus infection.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noroviruses cause approximately 23,000,000 cases of gastroenteritis in the United States each year.

What are the symptoms of norovirus foodborne illness?

The most common symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Children may experience more vomiting than adults. Additional symptoms include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of fatigue.

Symptoms usually begin 24- 48 hours after consuming contaminated food or water. Although an infected individual may feel very sick, symptoms usually last for only one or two days.

How are norovirus infections caused?

Norovirus food poisoning is spread primarily by fecal to oral contact, via contaminated food or water. Individuals can also become infected with norovirus through direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (e.g., caring for or sharing food with someone who is ill), or by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then placing a finger in the mouth.
Shellfish, salad ingredients, and contaminated water are the sources most commonly associated with norovirus food poisoning. Shellfish may be contaminated if harvested from sewage-contaminated waters, thus the ingestion of raw or insufficiently steamed clams and oysters poses a high risk of infection. Food handlers who have viral gastroenteritis ( especially if they do not wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom) may contaminate foods other than shellfish.
Food Poisoning Noroviruses are very contagious and can be found in the stool and vomit of infected individuals. The illness can spread rapidly in institutional and group settings, such as schools, child- care facilities, summer camps, hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, cruise ships, dormitories, and campgrounds.

How is norovirus infection treated?

According to the CDC, there is currently no antiviral medication that works against norovirus. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics, since antibiotic therapy works to fight bacteria and not viruses.

The CDC also reports that when people are ill with vomiting and diarrhea they should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration among young children, the elderly, and the sick can be common, and it is the most serious health effect resulting from norovirus infection. By drinking oral rehydration fluids (ORF), juice, or water, people can reduce their chances of becoming dehydrated. Sports drinks do not replace the nutrients and minerals lost during this illness

Are there complications with norovirus infections?

Although most people recover in one to two days, severe vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, requiring medical attention or hospitalization. This usually occurs only among the very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.

How can norovirus infection be prevented?

The following precautions can help prevent the spread of norovirus infection:

    • Wash hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food
    • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables and steam oysters and other shellfish before eating.
    • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness with a bleach-based household cleaner.
    • Immediately remove and wash (using hot water and soap) clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness.
    • Flush or discard vomit and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.
    • Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food or beverages while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover from the illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly

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The information contained on this page has been gathered from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other sources in the public domain.

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