Norovirus: The Infamous GI Bug (click here for video)
Norovirus is pretty well known cause of gastroenteritis (infection of the gut to cause vomiting and diarrhea) because of the news coverage on this virus. Cruise ships that have been on the news for Norovirus this year include: Holland America’s Veendam (CNN 2/23/14) — which is a bummer because we cruise on HAL all the time — Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas (CNN 1/31/14) and Princess’ Caribbean Princess (CNN 1/31/14).
Norovirus is believed to afflict 19-21 million persons in the USA every year. Due to this GI bug, it is estimated to cause 570-800 deaths, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, 400,000 ER visits, and 1.7-1.9 million outpatient visits to the doctor.
This highly contagious virus is spread via “Fecal-Oral” route. That means contaminated stool eventually gets inside the patient’s mouth. This is one of many reasons the health department mandates food handlers must wash their hands after using the restroom. The virus is spread by different ways: airborne droplets, food, water, and contaminated surfaces to name a few. Speaking of airborne transmission, someone’s vomiting might spread Norovirus in the air to contaminate nearby folks — as has been noticed in restaurants. Also cleaning up the emesis (the vomit) without wearing a mask is thought to increase the risk of airborne transmission. So confined areas are hot target areas for Norovirus outbreaks to occur, such as nursing homes, cruise ships, airplanes, schools, and daycare centers. (This is why I always use hand sanitizers before I eat in a cafeteria because contaminated serving utensils can make me sick. But if the food is already contaminated, I’m doomed.) Interesting piece of information: shellfish seem to be an extremely common vehicle of Norovirus.
The incubation period is 24-48 hours. Risk factors for being extra sick from Norovirus: older than 65 or younger than 5 years of age. Also being immunocompromised (weakened immune system) is a risk factor.
Symptoms of Norovirus can vary. Usually it is abrupt–i.e nausea and vomiting. Vomiting can be quite severe, to put a person at risk of dehydration. Watery diarrhea can be mild to moderate. Mild to high fevers, malaise (”feeling ill”), and headache can accompany all of these symptoms along with dehydration. Symptoms tend to resolved quickly after 48-72 hours.
Remember, this is just general information. No advice, diagnosis, or treatment has been given. Talk to your healthcare provider for advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment.
© Dr. John Hong, Inc

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