Friday, August 8, 2008

Norovirus In The News

The Rhode Island Department of Health announced yesterday that Greenwich Bay Gourmet, of East Greenwich, RI has recalled all prepared food sold by the establishment between August 1st and August 5th, inclusive. Any food that was purchased during this period may be contaminated with Norovirus and should be discarded.

The recall came after nearly 40% of the guests at a weekend function catered by Greenwich Bay Gourmet became ill. The illnesses were diagnosed as Norovirus infections and were traced back to food supplied by the caterer.

Norovirus, which is often associated with gastrointestinal outbreaks in nursing homes, day care centers, on cruise ships and in hotels and restaurants, has been in the news this week.

The New York State Department of Health issued an advisory yesterday to warn that there has been a "significant increase" in the number of viral gastroenteritis incidents in summer camps in that state. The advisory was addressed to camp directors, medical staff, infirmary staff and emergency medical personnel at overnight summer camps, and included specific recommendations on preventing and containing Norovirus outbreaks.

An infected guest at a wedding reception in Rochester, MN was the source of another Norovirus outbreak. The guest – whose personal hygiene left something to be desired – grabbed handfuls of tortilla chips and deposited some Norovirus in exchange. At least 20 people who ate chips from the same source after the infected guest had helped himself were rewarded with an unexpected soup├žon of seasoning in the form of Norovirus.

This virus also has been busy on the other side of the world, both in Australia and in New Zealand, where a suspected Norovirus outbreak forced the closure of a Dunedin hospital ward, and forced postponement of some surgical procedures. The ward was closed to both visitors and new patients after seven staff members and three patients began to exhibit symptoms of gastroenteritis. One additional patient and one more staff member fell ill after the ward was closed. Hospital authorities hope that their quick action will prevent spread of the virus to other parts of the hospital.

An outbreak of gastroenteritis, also caused by Norovirus, has struck the Dubbo Base Hospital in Australia. Fourteen patients and six staffers have fallen ill so far. The highly contagious virus, which appears to have been contained in one ward, may have been carried into the hospital either by a newly admitted patient, or by a visitor to the ward.

Finally, at least five outbreaks of gastroenteritis hit nursing homes in Blacktown area, Australia in July. The Sydney West area of Australia has suffered numerous nursing home gastroenteritis outbreaks in the last several months, some due to Clostridium perfringens and others caused by Norovirus. Staff members and residents of nursing homes in the area – and their families – have been notified of the outbreaks, which are being investigated by local health authorities.

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus. It has an incubation period of 24-48 hours, ending in an abrupt onset of gastroenteritis – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea – which lasts for 24-48 hours. The virus is very hardy, and can survive on dry surfaces for days. It can be spread in aerosols produced during vomiting, or by fecal material following diarrhea. Thorough disinfection of potentially contaminated surfaces, quarantine of contaminated areas, scrupulous attention to personal hygiene, and frequent hand washing are the most effective ways to contain an outbreak.

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