Norovirus Bug On the Rise, New Strain Arrives in United States

A new norovirus strain that was detected last year in Australia has reached the United States.

Although the flu is on everyone’s minds this season, a new strain of the highly contagious norovirus has reached the U.S. from Australia.

Often referred to as the stomach flu, norovirus is unrelated to influenza but often occurs during flu season. Symptoms of the norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that GII.4 Sydney strain is currently the leading cause of norovirus outbreaks in the U.S.

In the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released Jan. 25, the norovirus is described as the leading cause of epidemic gastroenteritis, including foodborne outbreaks, in the U.S.

Of norovirus cases reported from September to December, 54 percent have been identified as GII.4 Sydney, according to recently released data.

Hospitalization and mortality associated with norovirus infection occur most frequently among elderly persons, young children, and people with compromised immune systems.

Norovirus causes 21 million cases of illness, often involving severe vomiting and diarrhea, 70,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. and 800 deaths, according to the CDC.

Whereas influenza is a respiratory illness, norovirus, which comes in five forms, favors the stomach and intestinal tract, causing inflammation of tissues that leads to pain, nausea, and the diarrhea and vomiting.

The CDC reports the new strain of norovirus was first identified in March 2012 in Australia and has since sickened people on several continents.

The hardy norovirus is extremely contagious. The BBC reports that norovirus is one of the few infections you can catch from a toilet seat.  The virus can survive temperatures as high as 140°F, which makes eating raw fish such as oysters, particularly dangerous.

Noroviruses can live in vomit or stool even before a person experiences symptoms, and up to two weeks after symptoms disappear. People are most contagious when they experience symptoms and during the first three days after recovery, according to the CDC.  

There is no treatment or vaccine against norovirus. To help prevent contamination, the CDC recommends the following:

5 Tips to Prevent Norovirus From Spreading

1. Practice proper hand hygiene

Always wash your hands carefully with soap and water:

  • after using the toilet and changing diapers, and
  •  before eating, preparing, or handling food.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. But, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.

2. Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly

  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them.
  • Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 140°F and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
  • Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.

3. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others

  • You should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while you are sick and for at least 2 to 3 days after you recover.
  • This also applies to sick workers in schools, daycares, and other places where they may expose people to norovirus.

4. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

  • After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
  • Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

5. Wash laundry thoroughly

Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with
vomit or stool (feces).

You should—

  • handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
  • wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after,
  • and wash the items with detergent


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