Common Ways People Catch Norovirus

norovirus-wash-handsAccording to the CDC, an average of 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (a viral or bacterial infection that causes the stomach and intestines to become inflamed) are caused by Noroviruses each year.  Of these cases, between 56,000 to 71,000 results in hospitalization each year, while between 570 and 800 will end in death.  Norovirus affects everyone without concern to race, age, sex, or socioeconomic status.  However, there are certain places that Norovirus is more likely to take place.  The following are the most common places that Norovirus outbreaks occur.

One of the easiest places to pick up an infection of any kind, particularly Norovirus, is in a healthcare setting.  In fact, according to the National Institute for Health, this is the most commonly reported places for Norovirus outbreaks.  This includes hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.  While immunocompromised individuals, young children, and the elderly are the most severely affected, it is important to understand that anyone can contract this virus.

According to the CDC, in the US, Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food.  Of these cases, 70% are the result of infected food service workers who handle food inappropriately.  In a restaurant or similar setting, this is usually the result of someone not properly washing their hands before touching food that is ready to be served.  It is imperative that sick food service workers stay out of work for a minimum of 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped.  The most commonly involved foods in a Norovirus outbreak include fresh fruit, leafy green vegetables, and shellfish.

Any time people are crowded into small closed spaces, such as daycare, school buildings, and college dorms, the chances of a Norovirus outbreak become higher.  Consider the following scenario.  Jill, a 2 year old, suffered from diarrhea and vomiting over the weekend.  On Monday, her mom sends her to daycare because she cannot afford to miss work.  Jill is fine for several hours as she plays and abandons numerous toys.  In addition, she accidentally drinks out of Sarah’s cup before Sarah snatches it away and puts it in her mouth.  Around 1:00pm, Jill begins throwing up and is sent home.  Unfortunately, by that time, Sarah, as well as all the other children who have picked up toys she has played with and then put their hands in their mouth, are at high risk of contracting Norovirus.  The virus easily lives on toys, stuffed animals, counters, and more until they are appropriately cleaned.

According to the CDC, cruise ships account for 1% of all Norovirus outbreaks.  While this number is not nearly as high as many of the other causes, it still equals thousands of people every year.  This is because cruise ships place hundreds or thousands of people together in a relatively small area.  In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up the virus while making your way down the buffet line.

While this is less likely than the scenarios listed above, it is still a possibility.  For example, if a baby has diarrhea while floating around the swimming pool or lake, it can leak out before he or she is removed from the water.  Now, consider how many people accidentally swallow a little bit of water while swimming.

Norovirus is a very serious illness and while there is no 100% way to prevent someone from contracting it, it is possible to decrease their odds.  Proper hand washing is key!  Please look through our other articles for an in-depth look at how to decrease the spread of Norovirus.

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