Norovirus outbreaks are felling Sacramento's elderly and numerous people who visit friends in their homes or nursing homes and sometimes even hospitals. Another place where outbreaks sometimes happen is on cruise ships or at hotels. In Europe this year, a new, nastier mutation of the norovirus has caused a 72 percent rise in norovirus cases. Check out the site, Those nasty noroviruses may be getting nastier - The Globe and Mail.
Norovirus is a particularly nasty virus that causes severe gastrointestinal upset. It's famous for turning cruises into nightmares with projectile vomiting at the same time as explosive diarrhea.
See, Norovirus hitting harder and earlier this year. People are wondering whether the virus also spreads from food handlers who package vegetables cut in food processors whether or not they wear plastic gloves while handling or packaging the food. The norovirus is not limited to any one area of the world.
The big picture is with transatlantic travel, the new type of norovirus microbe has come to the shores of the USA. Plain soap and water won't decontaminate a room where a person with the nasty norovirus has been when contagious. And the usually 62-hour infection is still infectious more than 48 hours after symptoms have cleared. Was Hillary Clinton's recent severe stomach virus caught in Europe the norovirus or a bacterial infection? England has had an outbreak of norovirus this winter season, and the virus has mutated to become nastier.
Vomiting robot shows how many yards the norovirus spreads
Scientists have built a robot that performs projectile vomiting as people do when they are sickened with the norovirus which causes explosive gushes at both ends, including projectile vomiting at the same time, often, as explosive diarrhea. Check out the site, Vomiting robot helps researchers understand norovirus.
Larry is a one-robot upchucking machine in residence at the Health & Safety Laboratory in Buxton, U.K. The robot barfs for science. Then the researchers measure far many yards the norovirus can spread.
What the robot gushes is a watery liquid colored with fluorescent markers that makes it easier to track the spread, right down to the smallest droplets. What Larry has taught scientists is that those virus-wracked droplets can spread out nearly 10 feet from the source. You can check out the BBC News video of Larry the robot in action.
The norovirus can infect anyone touching a surface that a norovirus victim has handled, even before the person has had any symptoms or days after recovery, or entered a home where someone had the disease recently or even visited
Not only does it hit restaurant workers and food handlers, but anyone entering a room where a sick person may have been, even before the person shows symptoms. The best way to decontaminate a room after a norovirus outbreak or illness is with bleach. See the December 28, 2011 Sacramento Bee article by Bill Lindelof, Sacramento elder care facilities combating norovirus outbreaks. Symptoms of norovirus include projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea.
And various types of "stomach flu" are season, some in the winter months, and some in the summer, usually at resorts or on cruise ships, but can be found in any given place, including hotels and various eateries, nursing homes, hospitals, and in the homes of friends and their children. One way to become contaminated is by touching public or office computer keyboards or by putting fingers in mouth without washing. And with the norovirus, hand sanitizer doesn't work on the virus.
'Tis the season for norovirus
The norovirus is raging through Sacramento, hitting hard the elderly living at assisted living complexes, skilled nursing homes, and various types of group housing where the disease is passed from person to person usually through contaminated food sharing from the same source and from the clothing infected with the virus from patients.
The norovirus is contagious. And it's not just found at resorts, at buffets, and on cruise ships. Sacramento County public health officials said Tuesday that residents of elder care facilities have tested positive for the norovirus, a highly contagious illness that's especially hard on the elderly and the very young.
You find it frequently each year in December and January, and sometimes in June at various resorts. Someone with it could be sitting next to you on that bus coming back from a resort, someone getting up to vomit in the bus's toilet every few hours or minutes.
The norovirus is now present in both skilled nursing and assisted living facilities
Last winter in Sacramento, there were six confirmed cases in three different nursing home facilities. The Sacramento Bee article also reports a total of seven facilities that have been affected by the symptoms of norovirus. So far this adds up to a total 174 people, including residents and staff, have been affected by a viral illness that includes gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Norovirus causes 90 percent of the illnesses like that. The norovirus breaks out in college dormitories and group in housing. The question is whether the virus also can come through air vents from one apartment to the next.
The most common symptoms associated with the virus are diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. The sickness is often called by other names such as stomach flu and viral gastroenteritis, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A low-grade fever sometimes occurs, according to the CDC. Children are more prone to suffer from diarrhea than vomiting, and dehydration is a common problem, especially for small children and older people. Norovirus usually lasts from one to five days. County elder care facilities should have a notice posted if they are affected by an outbreak.
People visiting the elderly in these nursing homes can bring the virus back with them to their families. Norovirus is extremely infectious. Washing hands and clothes is important to help prevent the disease's spread. For example, at one nursing home in Sacramento, out of 85 residents, 15 became ill last week with vomiting and diarrhea.
Most are now feeling better, but two residents still have symptoms and are being monitored. Group activities were curtailed and the facility was disinfected. The CDC estimates that more than 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year are caused by norovirus.
Among 232 outbreaks reported to the CDC from 1997 to 2000, the majority were foodborne. Among those outbreaks, common settings were restaurants and catered events, nursing homes, schools, vacation spots and cruise ships.
You have a situation in Sacramento that as healthy older people visit friends in nursing homes, they can carry the virus with them and infect anyone they come in contact with by offering food, shaking hands, or through clothing. So be aware of how norovirus is spread. Just at the season where many people eat out in other people's homes or restaurants, you don't know whether you're exposed to it or not from family members who have been in contact with people that have the norovirus.
Wash your hands. If you prepare food for others, it's not the time to visit those who can expose you to the virus who have had it recently and who are touching food or clothing you're handling. Children can also pass the virus onto older adults and vice versa. Also see these sites: 15 Foods You Should Never Buy Again and The No. 1 tip to avoid food poisoning.
Which areas of any given hotel are most likely to be contaminated with nasty microbes?
The most contaminated areas of hotel rooms are the remote control and the lamp switch nearest the beds, according to a study presented last year on June 17, 2012 meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. An experiment testing the surfaces in hotel rooms finds television remotes to be among the most heavily contaminated with viruses and various types of nasty bacteria items on housekeeping carts carry the potential to cross-contaminate rooms.
Researchers from the University of Houston report the findings today at the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology held in San Francisco. If you're at a hotel this week, you may want to bring a small container of rubbing alcohol with you to swab over the light switch on the lamp next to the bed and on the area of the remote control you hold with your fingers.
Other than the norovirus, while some of the most contaminated samples, including the toilet and the bathroom sink, were to be expected, researchers also found high levels of bacterial contamination on the TV remote and the bedside lamp switch. Most concerning, some of highest levels of contamination were found in items from the housekeepers' carts, including sponges and mops which pose a risk for cross-contamination of rooms.
Surfaces with the lowest contamination included the headboard on the bed, curtain rods and the bathroom door handle. The researchers cannot say whether or not the bacteria detected can cause disease, however, the contamination levels are a reliable indicator of overall cleanliness.
Contamination levels are indicators of overall cleanliness
"Hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests with a safe and secure environment. Currently, housekeeping practices vary across brands and properties with little or no standardization industry wide. The current validation method for hotel room cleanliness is a visual assessment, which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation," says Katie Kirsch an undergraduate student at the University of Houston who presented the study, which was reported in a June 17, 2012 news release, "The most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms."
As the public becomes increasingly concerned with public health, hotel room cleanliness and sanitation are becoming consideration factors for consumers when selecting a hotel room. Contact with contaminated surfaces is a possible mode of transmission of illness during outbreaks in hotels. This, combined with the lack of standardization of hotel room cleanliness, poses a risk for hotel guests, specifically immunocompromised individuals who are more susceptible to infection.
"Currently, housekeepers clean 14-16 rooms per 8-hour shift, spending approximately 30 minutes on each room. Identifying high-risk items within a hotel room would allow housekeeping managers to strategically design cleaning practices and allocate time to efficiently reduce the potential health risks posed by microbial contamination in hotel rooms," says Kirsch in the news release.
Hotel cleanliness is being researched as much bacteria may be spread from room to room with mops and rags used by cleaning personnel
The study was designed as the first step in applying the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to hotel room cleanliness. Originally developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, HACCP is a systematic preventive approach that identifies potential physical, chemical and biological hazards and designs measurements to reduce these risks to safe levels.
Kirsch and her colleagues at the University of Houston, along with researchers from Purdue University and the University of South Carolina sampled a variety of surfaces from hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana and South Carolina. They tested the levels of total aerobic bacteria and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on each of the surfaces.
For example, if someone is sick with the common norovirus in one room and it's cleaned, the issue is whether the mops, brooms, and rags used for cleaning will carry the viruses and bacteria to other rooms as each room is cleaned. Most personnel cleaning hotel rooms may not be disinfecting rags, brooms, and mops as they move from one vacated room to the next to clean after someone checks out or leaves the room.
Study is preliminary
Kirsch warns that this study is preliminary and is limited by the sample size, which included only 3 rooms in each state and 19 surfaces within each hotel room, but hopes that it is just the beginning of a body of research that could offer a scientific basis to hotel housekeeping.
"The information derived from this study could aid hotels in adopting a proactive approach for reducing potential hazards from contact with surfaces within hotel rooms and provide a basis for the development of more effective and efficient housekeeping practices," says Kirsch in the news release.
Today Katie Kirsch participated in a live webcast media availability to discuss her research on Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. The webcast can be found online at the Microbeworld site.
This research was presented last year as part of the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology that was held seven months ago on June 16-19, 2012 in San Francisco, California. Check out the American Society for Microbiology site.