Should you be concerned about norovirus? If you eat food, the answer is yes.
A recent uptick in norovirus outbreaks in California has state health officials concerned about the spread of this highly infectious sickness nicknamed “winter vomiting disease.” It’s also known as “stomach flu” or “24-hour flu,” although norovirus is not a form of influenza.
Norovirus is the leading cause of food-borne illness and outbreaks in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly two-thirds of cases can be traced back to restaurants with another 17 percent linked to catering or banquets.
Often, infected people chalk up the illness to food poisoning, but norovirus easily can be passed on to others. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, usually within 12 to 48 hours of exposure. Those infected with the virus remain contagious for two to three days after symptoms subside.
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According to the CDC, it takes only 18 particles of norovirus to infect someone. Yet, those infected with the virus may shed billions of particles during their contagious period. Enough norovirus particles to infect more than 1,000 people can fit on the head of a pin.
Fresh fruit and vegetables can pick up norovirus particles during handling. In addition, produce may be contaminated in the field. Norovirus particles also may be spread in water, infecting oysters and shellfish.
To stop the spread of norovirus and keep your own family safe, follow these guidelines from the CDC:
▪ Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap under running water for at least 20 seconds.
▪ Avoid touching food with bare hands. Use utensils and single-use disposable gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods.
▪ Rinse fruit and vegetables carefully before use. Preferably, use running water.
▪ Cook shellfish thoroughly (to above 140 degrees F.). Avoid eating raw oysters or other shellfish.
▪ Clean and sanitize kitchen surfaces, cutting boards and utensils. Use chlorine-based products or bleach. Also, sanitize frequently touched objects such as light switches and door knobs.
▪ If you feel sick, avoid preparing food for others. That includes two to three days after symptoms disappear.
For more tips on norovirus prevention, visit the CDC’s norovirus website at http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html.