Ways Norovirus Spreads

There are several different ways that Norovirus is spread from person to person. It is also possible to get the virus by eating contaminated food. Although preventative measures can be taken, it is still common for Norovirus to be spread by restaurant food and for people to become infected in hospitals nursing homes, schools and on cruise ships.

Norovirus Person to Person Infection
Norovirus is most often spread by unintentionally ingesting a tiny amount of vomit or fecal matter from an infected person. Coming in contact with any contaminated surface or object, and then putting a finger in the mouth is enough to cause infection. In hospitals and care homes it can spread from a contaminated door handle or any object previously touched by an unwashed hand.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that particles of the virus can survive for several days on any object or surface that has not been washed or cleaned. An infected person will be contagious in the first few days of getting Norovirus and also for several days after recovery.

People on board a cruise ship that has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected can quickly become infected if just one passenger has unknowingly carried the virus onto the ship.

An outbreak on a cruise ship is not an indication of poor food preparation or low standard of hygiene. The virus spreads rapidly because there are so many people in close proximity and surfaces become contaminated before anyone is aware that there is a danger of contagion.

Norovirus Infection from Food
Anyone who swallows a few particles of the virus is likely to become ill. According to CDC, the most common types of food items that can get contaminated are salads and raw vegetables as well as berries, fruits and some shellfish.

Leafy vegetables and fruits account for about half the number of outbreaks caused by food contamination.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has seen evidence of strawberries and raspberries, which have been frozen, being associated with outbreaks of Norovirus. They do not know whether the source was sewage contamination of the land where the berries were grown or if the berries were contaminated during the process of freezing and packaging.

Water and other liquids can also be contaminated with Norovirus particles. Oysters contain the virus when the water they come from has been contaminated by sewage, vomit or other infected substances. Shellfish are responsible for less than 20% of outbreaks.

Any type of food can spread Norovirus if it has been touched by someone with dirty hands that have Norovirus on them. Analysis carried out by the CDC between 2009 and 2012 showed that handling of food was the major cause of food contamination in the USA, and 92% of all food poisoning outbreaks originated with food preparation.

In restaurants where hand washing is frequent, and where gloves are worn for food preparation, there have been significantly fewer Norovirus outbreaks.

Norovirus can also be contracted by sharing food or cups with someone who is already infected.

There is far less chance of Norovirus spreading where there are good standards of hygiene in food preparation areas and in buildings where people go for health care. Unwashed hands and unclean surfaces are the most common ways for Norovirus to spread.

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