A major norovirus outbreak in England could spread to US shores soon, in addition to the outbreaks we've seen on cruise ships.
On January 2nd, Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported 3,877 confirmed cases of norovirus this season, up 72% from a year ago. This was less than ten days after three US based cruise ships (Queen Mary 2, Emerald Princess, Crown Princess), saw approximately 500 passengers and crew affected. The Queen Mary 2 primarily makes transatlantic crossings between Southampton, England and New York.
Tthe HPA also notes that cases have increased throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and other places around the world. No reason has been speculated for the growth, although it is customary for the number of cases to increase during the winter months.
Concern for a rapid spread to the US is based on the fact that the majority of cruise ship passengers are Americans, who will be returning to areas throughout the states. Also, frequent flights between the US and England, and other areas with a high outbreak increases the possibility. Flight passengers will return stateside while still ill or contagious.
The HPA says the number of official cases cited is a fraction of the total number of cases. It is estimated that for each reported case, there are 288 unreported ones due to those affected not seeking healthcare. (This would multiply out to 1.1 million total cases this year in England alone)
In contrast, the CDC estimates 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year in the US due to norovirus infections. A 72% increase in the US could take the number to over 36 million this year.
The virus can be acquired by:
- Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.
- Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.
- Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus.
Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly fever, headaches and stomach cramps. Most cases resolve themselves in a matter of days, and in England approximately 800 people die yearly from the attacks.
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