Norovirus, alike Salmonella, is one of the most common pathogens that cause foodborne illness. The virus is so prevalent, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 21 million people suffer from Norovirus infection each year. Norovirus is very contagious, and can spread quickly through food, contaminated surfaces, and even through contact with another infected person. The rapid spread is especially concerning in places where many people are concentration in one area – such as nursing homes, daycares, schools, hospitals, and cruise ships.
Signs and symptoms of Norovirus infection can occur anywhere from 1 to 2 days. In fact, symptoms are essentially what one would think is the stomach flu:
- Abdominal pain
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle pain
Symptoms can get worse, especially in children, the elderly, and persons in hospitals or nursing homes. People with compromised immune systems can also have more severe symptoms. Due to the concern for dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea, supportive care is typically recommended by physicians. The illness usually lasts anywhere from one to three days, but a person may carry the virus for several weeks or months depending on their overall health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those who have become ill with a suspected Norovirus infection adhere to the following tips:
- Drink lots of fluids. This will replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea. This will also prevent dehydration.
- Stay away from drinks with caffeine or alcohol. These drinks act as diuretics, and could actually lead to dehydration.
- When you are showing symptoms, do not prepare food for others who are not sick. This will prevent the spread of the virus.
- Wash your hands often.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated areas – use of a chlorine bleach solution is best
- Clean all laundry with detergent on the maximum clean cycle
Famous Outbreak: In 2015, at least 234 residents of Simi Valley, California became ill with Norovirus after eating at Chipotle. The total illnesses are unknown, as many cases are believed to have gone unreported. The outbreak was the largest of 5 separate outbreaks related to the restaurant chain. Local health department did not find a conclusive source of the contamination, but found many food safety violations committed by Chipotle and its employees. Some of these included: pest control issues, failure for employees to have proper food handler cards, mildew in the ice machine, and holding cooked food at dangerous temperatures. Chipotle blamed sick employees for the outbreak.