Norovirus in the News
By Aron J. Hall, Epidemiologist, Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Have you recently heard about something called “norovirus” in the news? You probably have, although it’s sometimes referred to as “food poisoning” or the “stomach flu.” Norovirus is very common and very contagious. In fact, a recent CDC study said it’s a leading cause of foodborne deaths, hospitalizations, and illnesses.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease from contaminated foods in the United States; it is responsible for more illnesses than all other viruses, bacteria, and parasites combined. Of all foodborne disease outbreaks with a known cause in the United States, over half are caused by noroviruses.
Norovirus illness often begins suddenly. If infected, you may feel very sick, with stomach cramping, vomiting, or diarrhea. Infections are usually not serious. Most people recover within 1 or 2 days with no long-term health effects. But, more severe illness is possible, particularly in young children, older adults, and people with other health conditions. For these people, norovirus illness can lead to hospitalization and even death.
How do you get norovirus?
You can get norovirus by
- Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.
- Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.
- Having direct contact with another person who is infected with norovirus. (for example, when you care for someone with norovirus or share foods or eating utensils with someone who is infected.)
Leafy greens (such as lettuce) and raw shellfish (such as oysters) are just two examples of foods most commonly involved in foodborne norovirus outbreaks. However, any food item that is served raw or handled after being cooked can become contaminated with noroviruses.
Norovirus can spread rapidly from person to person in crowded, closed places like long-term care facilities, daycare centers, schools, hotels, and cruise ships. Noroviruses also can be a major cause of gastroenteritis in restaurants and at catered events if contaminated food is served.
Stop the spread of norovirus
You can stop the spread of norovirus by washing your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. According to the latest findings from the CDC, “appropriate hand hygiene is likely the single most important method to prevent norovirus infection.”
Other food safety tips to prevent norovirus infections include
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables.
- Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Do not prepare food if you’re infected. People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others until 3 days after they recover from their illness.
For more tips, see Prevent the Spread of Norovirus.