Ah Norovirus, We Meet Again (And So Soon!)

Posted by Admin | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, Handwashing, In the News, Norovirus | Posted on 13-03-2013

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You probably remember the outbreak of Norovirus just a few months ago. It seemed nobody could escape the sickness that ran rampant throughout the United States. Symptoms of the stomach flu were ailing countless individuals and flooding houses. Glad that’s over. Or is it? Don’t get too comfortable just yet. Several stories have hit the news in the last week about new outbreaks of the dreaded Norovirus. We just can’t seem to escape it.

Last week, two cruise ships caused nearly 400 people to spend their precious vacation time vomiting and suffering other symptoms from Norovirus. And in February of this year, 67 individuals suffered the same fate from eating at the “World’s Best” restaurant, Noma, in Denmark. Following these incidents, employees of both the cruise ships and the restaurant quickly got to work to sanitize everything in sight. These actions were taken because Norovirus is caused by individuals who are infected and have vomited or used the restroom. They have then failed to wash their hands and have handled food or touched surfaces such as counters or door handles. (Remember when your mom told you to wash your hands every time you used the bathroom? Apparently not everyone got that memo, and unfortunately, that means everyone has to suffer.) From there, the germs and illness spread to every person who touches these surfaces or eats the prepared food. It becomes unstoppable.

In fact, over the past few weeks, Queen Elizabeth II has been battling a nasty case of the virus. While most individuals suffer from these symptoms for a few days, the queen has been experiencing them for a few weeks. As a result, she is currently being hospitalized. She is nearing her 87th birthday, and while she is generally in good health, elderly individuals often experience the effects of Norovirus with more difficulty than those who are younger. But never fear, the queen has said she “hates to make a fuss” and the royal family does not expect the illness to last long.

So here’s the lesson: Always, always, always wash your hands. This is especially true if you have just used the bathroom. This is also very important if you are experiencing these symptoms. Everything you touch can become a potential weapon against those who do the same after you. In addition, if you work with food, whether at home or in a food establishment, don’t do so when you’re sick. Ask a family member to make dinner or tell your boss that you need to go home for the day. We have a responsibility to each other when it comes to sicknesses like Norovirus. If we stay home, regularly wash our hands, and sanitize things we touch, we can kill the bug once and for all.

–Angela Bond

Sources: FoodSafetyNews.com (Cruiseships), FoodSafetyNews.com (World’s Best Restaurant), Examiner.com, State.MN.US

Norovirus Outbreak at LDS Missionary Training Center

Posted by Emilee | Posted in Emergency Outbreak, Foodborne Illness, FYI, In the News, Norovirus | Posted on 04-01-2013

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LDS MTC

Today, in StateFoodSafety.com’s hometown, KSL News is reporting on a Norovirus outbreak at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has sickened 250 missionaries over only a few days. The MTC houses thousands of missionaries-in-training (the number fluctuates regularly) and employs approximately 150 full-time staff; 1,200 part-time volunteers; and 1,500 volunteers providing services such as teaching simulations. Like a miniature city in the heart of Provo, Utah, the MTC has doctor’s offices, a gymnasium, an auditorium, classrooms, a bookstore, a barbershop, a post office that receives 4,000 letters and 500 packages daily, and an unbelievably huge kitchen that produces 56,000-70,000 meals weekly. With missionaries checking in weekly, and staff  and volunteers coming and going daily, the MTC is the perfect breeding ground for pathogens, especially one as virulent and opportunistic as Norovirus.

LDS Missionaries

Norovirus, commonly called the “stomach flu” or “24-hour flu,” is a fast-acting pathogen that thrives in heavily-populated environments. Outbreaks are frequently associated with child care facilities, nursing homes, dormitories, cruises, and schools. Once training begins in the MTC, missionaries are not able to leave campus (except for rare, previously-approved excursions) until they depart for their domestic or international assignments. This gives pathogens like Norovirus ample opportunity to spread among the missionaries and staff, causing large outbreaks like that reported today.

LDS missionaries generally do not fall into the “highly-susceptible” category, as the majority range in age from 18-25. This means that Norovirus incidents are generally symptom-free within a couple of days, however victims can still contaminate food and surfaces for weeks after symptoms stop.

For more information on this outbreak or the MTC, hit up the source links below.

 

Emilee Follett

Sources: KSL, mtc.byu.edu, Deseret News

Norovirus: A Study in Puked Perfection

Posted by Emilee | Posted in Emergency Outbreak, Foodborne Illness, FYI, Handwashing, In the News, Norovirus, Online Resource, Science and Technology, Seasonal | Posted on 03-01-2013

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NatGeo Norovirus

 

This week, National Geographic blogger Carl Zimmer brought us a quick-reading article about the gross, the bad, and the nasty of Norovirus–perhaps our greatest food safety foe. We recommend reading the entire article, but if you don’t have time, here are a few of the highlights…

Each norovirus carries just nine protein-coding genes (you have about 20,000). Even with that skimpy genetic toolkit, noroviruses can break the locks on our cells, slip in, and hack our own DNA to make new noroviruses. The details of this invasion are sketchy, alas, because scientists haven’t figured out a good way to rear noroviruses in human cells in their labs. It’s not even clear exactly which type of cell they invade once they reach the gut. Regardless of the type, they clearly know how to exploit their hosts. Noroviruses come roaring out of the infected cells in vast numbers. And then they come roaring out of the body. Within a day of infection, noroviruses have rewired our digestive system so that stuff comes flying out from both ends.

 

Once the norovirus emerges from its miserable host, it has to survive in the environment. Noroviruses have no trouble doing so, it seems. Fine droplets released from sick people can float through the air and settle on food, on countertops, in swimming pools. They can survive freezing and heating and bleaching. In 2010, scientists surveyed a hospital for noroviruses and found 21 different types sitting on a single countertop. It takes fewer than twenty noroviruses slipping into a person’s mouth to start a new infection.

 

It would be very nice if we only had to worry about getting noroviruses once and then could enjoy protection from them for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, it seems that we only have a brief protection of perhaps a few months, and then we’re fair game again. As a strain of norovirus encounters this short-lived defense, it evolves new ways to evade our immune systems. A modified strain can then sweep around the world in as little as three months.

 

 

–Emilee Follett

Source: National Geographic Phenomena Blog

Christmas Cruise Becomes a “Plague Ship” Thanks to Norovirus

Posted by Emilee | Posted in Be Healthy, Emergency Outbreak, FDA, Foodborne Illness, FYI, In the News, Norovirus, Online Resource, Seasonal | Posted on 19-12-2012

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P&O Oriana

“It has been outrageous from start to finish. People were falling like flies, yet the crew [was] trying to insist everything was fine… This is a plague ship. It’s a living nightmare.”

Those are the words of one passenger, Paul Gilman, 62, as told to the Daily Mail after disembarking from the P&O cruise liner Oriana. The cruise was supposed to be a perfect 10-day holiday cruise through the Balkans. However, almost as soon as the ship left port, passengers began falling ill with Nororvirus, a leading cause of gastroenteritis.

Norovirus is a fast-acting virus that is highly contagious and frequently causes outbreaks wherever there are lots of people living or working under close quarters, such as schools, office settings, restaurants, daycare centers, and yes, cruise ships. Just like many viruses, Norovirus is a hearty pathogen that can remain active on a dry surface for days. One viral specialist on-board the Oriana told fellow passengers “the ship should not have set sail for [at least] 48 hours and should have gone through a deep clean.”

Norovirus--Christmas-y!

The common symptoms of a Norovirus infection are painful bloating of the stomach and intestines; nausea; vomiting and diarrhea (both of which can come with little warning); and dehydration. There are likely few people on Earth who have not experienced such symptoms, which is why Norovirus has so many nicknames. It’s been called the “stomach flu,” “travelers sickness,” “vomiting bug,” “24 hour flu,” and “food poisoning.” However, gastroenteritis, the name used by doctors to describe the suite of symptoms associated with pathogens like Norovirus, is not associated with the flu at all. It is most commonly passed from person-to-person through cross-contamination of food and surfaces.

Why is Norovirus so contagious? There are a few reasons:

  1. Norovirus symptoms come on suddenly and generally only last for a day or two. However, even after symptoms stop, an infected person will still be “shedding”  viruses in their feces for weeks.
  2. After using the bathroom, an infected person’s hands will be covered in trillions of viruses. Norovirus infection requires only 10 active viruses. You do the math.
  3. Norovirus is hard to “kill.” Viruses aren’t really alive in the way we generally consider other living things. However, deactivating them is a challenge. The cleansers that come closest to doing the job on Norovirus are totally inappropriate for food contact surfaces. Which is why Noro is so commonly considered a foodborne illness (it’s one of the Big 5!).

So how can you protect yourself and others from Norovirus? Well, to be totally honest with you, you’ve had Noro before, and you’ll probably get it again. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do everything you can to prevent its spread. Here are some tips:

  • If you handle food, especially in a retail setting (i.e., for work), and you’re experiencing nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting, don’t go to work. Tell your manager about the symptoms you’re experiencing and they should instruct you to stay home until at least 24-hours after you’re symptom free. When you do go back to work, ask your manager if there are tasks you can accomplish that will keep you away from food prep for at least a week.
  • If someone in your household is experiencing symptoms, and you handle food for work, tell your manager. Many Norovirus outbreaks have been caused by food workers who were asymptomatic, meaning they had no symptoms but still passed the virus along.
  • If you’re on a cruise, like the Oriana, and you experience symptoms of gastroenteritis, tell the ship’s doctor. When the doctor tells you to eat meals in your cabin, follow their instructions. You could prevent a massive outbreak.
  • If you have a child who is experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis, especially a diapered child, keep them home from daycare or preschool. Infection from child-to-child or child-to-childcare worker-to-child is extremely common and can have a much more devastating effect, because children have weaker immune systems than do adults.
  • Wash Your Hands. Even if you’re not sick, regular and effective handwashing, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, is your best defense against Noro and other harmful pathogens. You can accomplish much more with old-fashioned soap and water than you can with antibacterial gels–which have absolutely no effect against Norovirus.

Apparently, once the illness began on-board the Oriana, “it spread like wildfire through the ship,” according to The Guardian. However, a spokesperson for Carnival Cruises said that they have sent the ship through an “enhanced sanitation” process to make it safe for the next round of passengers. If you intend on traveling with Carnival, or any other cruise agency, be on your guard for “the winter vomiting bug” (AKA Norovirus), which the UK’s Health Protection Agency says has had a 72% increase this season. Wash your hands regularly and you’ll be sure to enjoy a relaxing voyage on the high seas.

Good luck and bon voyage!

Emilee Follett

 

For further reading, check out pages 149-153 of the FDA’s Bad Bug Book.

Norovirus: The Not-So-Favorite Shipmate

Posted by apontious | Posted in Be Healthy, Food Safety, Foodborne Illness, Handwashing, Norovirus, Spotlight Foodborne Illness | Posted on 29-08-2012

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In eNT article “When Bugs Swim,” Dr. Elinor Garley discusses how the nature of cruise ships “provide ideal conditions for the rapid spread of…illnesses”—think lots of social people enclosed in a somewhat small space.  Looking at the configuration of cruise ships logistically, it’s no wonder people have a higher risk of illnesses.  With so many people coming in contact with each other, someone’s bound to get sick.  Norovirus, one of the most contagious of illnesses, can be spread in a variety of ways, through food, water, on surfaces, and through person-to-person contact (e.g. handshakes and high fives), which makes a cruise ideal for the illness to thrive. And Norovirus isn’t the only one; many illnesses caused by both bacteria and viruses are easily spread under such conditions.

There are vital precautions you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from Norovirus and other illnesses:

  1. Be aware of your surroundings.  Studies show that the surfaces on a cruise ship that are most congested with germs are hand rails, public bathrooms (including exit door handles), and buffet tables, so do what you can to avoid touching these areas—or wash your hands after you do.
  2. Wash your hands.  As archaic as it sounds, washing your hands with soap and warm water is a proven way to fight off bacteria and viruses.  Just do it—and do it often.
  3. Use hand sanitizer.  After washing your hands, sanitize them.  Sanitizer kills many common germs, or at least reduces them to a low enough level that they are unlikely to make you and others sick. However, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (by far the most common type) are not effective against all germs. In fact, Norovirus can withstand alcohol to concentrations well past that found in hand sanitizers, so even though sanitizer is great (have you seen the nifty automatic hand sanitizer dispensers that they have on cruise ships these days?) it is not completely effective by itself.  Hand sanitizers are good to use in addition to hand washing, but cannot replace a good soap-and-water scrub.  So remember to do both.
  4. Watch the food.  Many cruise meals are served buffet style.  It is true that buffets are a favorite among food lovers, but when you visit the buffet, be extra conscious of the germs you or others may be adding to the various foods.  Make sure you wash your hands (yes, again) before you visit the buffet, and never, never bring used dishes back for a refill.  The bacteria left on used cups and plates can be spread to uneaten food.
  5. Choose confinement, if necessary.  Of course you would never plan on becoming sick—especially on your cruise-of-a-lifetime.  But if you do, react respectfully by keeping your germs to yourself.  Unfortunately, that means isolation, but can you really turn down some quiet time in your room with a good book, room service, and a nap?

Be safe and happy cruisin’!

–Aubrey Pontious