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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus outbreaks result in about 685 million cases of acute gastroenteritis – inflammation of the stomach, intestines, or both – around the globe annually. Just last week, there were two large outbreaks that made headlines. To wit:
Norovirus outbreaks: Winter Olympics
While the Winter Olympic Games officially opened last Friday in PyeongChang, South Korea, it was a norovirus outbreak that had organizers and the South Korean government scrambling as the highly infectious gastrointestinal bug had sickened 158 workers by Sunday. More than 1,200 members of the security staff were quarantined before the start of the Olympics in an attempt to quell the outbreak.
The confirmed case count of the “winter vomiting flu” had increased to 194 by today. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDCP) had tentatively identified the cause as contaminated cooking water.
No athletes were infected. An outbreak of norovirus at last year’s world athletics championships in London forced athletes from several countries to miss events.
The South Korean government deployed 900 military personnel to replace security members who were temporarily quarantined.
The following preventative measures were enacted after the outbreak came to light:
- Implementation of hygiene inspections by relevant organizations on accommodation, restaurants, drinking and tap water, and water purification plants (Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Ministry of Environment, Gangwon Province, medical facilities, Gangwon Institute of Health and Environment, etc.).
- Monitoring of diarrhea patients and continuous epidemiological survey of those with similar symptoms (KCDCP, local health centers).
- Promotion of preventive measures, such as the distribution of hand sanitizers at major facilities, hand washing, etc.
Norovirus outbreaks: Oshkosh, WI
About 6,500 miles away in Wisconsin, the students, faculty, and workers at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh were dealing with their own norovirus outbreak. According to university officials, 130 people had self-reported norovirus symptoms as of Friday.
That total had topped 200 by this morning.
The majority of illnesses were reported from South Scott Hall, the second-largest residence hall on campus. However, at least one case had been reported from every residence hall on campus.
Cleaning crews have been working to disinfect campus areas, including academic buildings, bathrooms, and trash receptacles. Trash-removal schedules were changed so that trash was being removed more quickly.
“We’re diligently trying to prevent the further spread of contamination on our campus,” said Pamela MacWilliams, UWO Health Services director.
The university has been urging students or staff with symptoms to report them to the health center through the university’s website. University officials recommend that anyone who has been infected stay home for 24 hours after symptoms no longer exist.
The most effective way to stop the spread of norovirus and other foodborne pathogens is to:
- Practice good hygiene and wash hands frequently.
- Stay home if you are exhibiting symptoms.
- People with diarrhea or who are vomiting should not handle food, work in or attend day-care centers or schools, or take care of patients in a health-care facility until 48 hours after symptoms are gone.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness and outbreaks in the U.S. on a yearly basis, according to the CDC.
The infection can cause the sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Mayo Clinic. The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation, or from contaminated surfaces.
You can also be infected through close contact with an infected person.
Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting typically begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure and can last one to three days. Most people recover completely without treatment.
For some people, however — especially infants, older adults and people with the underlying disease — vomiting and diarrhea can be severely dehydrating and require medical attention.
Norovirus infection occurs most frequently in closed and crowded environments, such as hospitals, nursing homes, child-care centers, schools, and cruise ships.
Signs and symptoms of norovirus infection include:
- low-grade fever
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain or cramps
- watery or loose diarrhea
- malaise (a general feeling of discomfort)
- muscle pain.