Imagine that this is you: You feel awful. You're absolutely exhausted, you've got a fever and muscle ache. You don't dare leave the house because diarrhea is keeping you tied to the bathroom. Not that you can keep food in your stomach anyway since you're frequently vomiting. All this misery after eating dinner at a trendy restaurant with your friends. What happened? Why are you suddenly so sick?
Norovirus. Some people refer to it as the stomach flu or Norwalk agent. Regardless of the name, this virus is a leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. According to government estimates, this RNA viral pathogen causes 20 million cases of gastrointestinal illness each year. Even worse, there is no way to vaccinate yourself against norovirus and no medical treatment should you ever become sick from the disease.
Where Does Norovirus Come From?
(Norovirus image photographed by the Environmental Protection Agency uploaded to wikipedia)
Norovirus is an RNA virus that is transmitted via fecal matter, sneezing, coughing, person to person or when coming into contact with a contaminated surface. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus can be quickly transmitted in schools, hotels, daycare facilities, long term care facilities and even cruise ships.
In other words, norovirus is a highly contagious disease that likes closed in spaces where people come into close contact with each other.
When someone becomes exposed to the virus, the pathogen travels to the small intestine and rapidly multiplies creating millions of other norovirus particles. From there the virus takes up residence in the stomach where it causes considerable pain and discomfort to the infected person. The bad news is that anyone - that includes you and me - can get sick after becoming exposed to norovirus.
What Are The Symptoms Of Norovirus?
Norovirus causes gastroenteritis or stomach inflammation. Although the disease is usually not very serious, it can cause considerable physical discomfort. Norovirus infection is characterized by a number of symptoms including:
- stomach cramps
- low grade fever
- muscle aches
Health officials report that norovirus can cause severe dehydration making the virus potentially fatal to very young children and the elderly, but most people in the general population tend to recover in 1 -2 days. Of course anyone who has ever gotten gastroenteritis knows the sickness is no walk in the park. Nonetheless, some of you might be saying: "This disease is just awful! But what does any of it have to do with food?" Which naturally leads to the next section...
Why You Need To Be Concerned About Norovirus
The US government estimates that year after year, one in every 15 Americans will come down with gastroenteritis caused by norovirus. The disease can not be cured nor treated. Physicians don't have any vaccines to protect you from the virus. Norovirus infection is often caused by ingesting the pathogen. The following list of foods are commonly contaminated by norovirus:
- green leafy vegetables
- fresh fruits
Since there aren't any medicines to treat or cure norovirus, the best method of disease prevention is caution and common sense.
Health officials recommend that people take the following precautions to reduce their chances of getting gastroenteritis:
- Practice Good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water espcially after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating meals. Use alcohol based sanitizers if soap and water are not available.
- Thoroughly cook your shellfish and wash off your fruits and vegetables before eating them.
- Don't handle food when you're sick with norovirus.
- Use a bleach-based cleaner to thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
- Do your laundry. Make sure to wash soiled linens and cloths with detergent.
No one wants to be sick if they can help it. Now that you have some facts about gastroenteritis caused by noroviruses, you're in a better position to avoid catching this common but avoidable disease.
Next week, we're going to look at another foodborne illness.
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CDC Features - Prevent The Spread of Norovirus http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Norovirus/
"Beware Norovirus - The Untreatable Foodborne Disease" copyright 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.