There has been a lot of talk about norovirus lately. A new strain out of Australia has a lot of people asking questions about the risk to the public. The truth; every person in the United States has probably had a norovirus at some point in their lives, and probably more than once. It is the most common forms of gastrointestinal illness in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2013). Whenever people complain about food poisoning or “stomach flu” it’s likely that what they are really suffering from is a norovirus.
Let’s shift back to a story from history that most of us remember and that is the story of Typhoid Mary. While norovirus isn’t Typhoid the transmission method is very much the same. Mary, who was a carrier of Typhoid who worked as a cook. While she wasn’t symptomatic she was passing Typhoid to people who ate food that she had handled because she wasn’t practicing proper hygiene (Leavitt, 1996).
A person who has norovirus can be asymptomatic, but still contagious. Like Typhoid, this virus is passed from person to person via contact and, most commonly, through ingesting the virus because food was handled by someone who was sick or the food was prepared on an unclean surface.
The best practice for preventing norovirus is simple; practice good hygiene. Washing hands before handling food, cooking food thoroughly, and ensuring the food preparation surfaces are clean and disinfected before preparing food and after is very important. It is also important to remember that if you have been sick with a “stomach flu” or anything similar do not prepare food while ill or for at least 3 days after the symptoms have subsided.
A norovirus isn’t likely to be extremely dangerous to most people. Of course, like most other illnesses anyone with other health conditions or those on the lower or upper end of the age spectrum are at additional risk. The major risk for anyone with a norovirus infection is dehydration. Drinking plenty of fluid is very important and seeking medical help in the event of an inability to maintain hydration is important as well (CDC, 2013).
Leavitt, J (1996) Typhoid Mary: Captive to the public’s health. Beacon Press. Boston, MA.
CDC (2013) Prevent the Spread of Norovirus. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/norovirus/