EchoPress.com reports that health officials are reporting an increase in digestive tract illness caused by a family of bugs known as noroviruses.
At least 29 outbreaks of norovirus illness have been reported to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) since the first of the year, according to department officials. The outbreaks have occurred in a variety of settings, including commercial food establishments, schools, nursing homes and hotels.
Noroviruses are the most common cause of food-related illness in Minnesota, and reported cases tend to peak during the winter months. However, officials say the current level of norovirus activity is the highest in several years.
Symptoms of a norovirus infection can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, a general run-down feeling and a mild fever. People typically become ill 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus, and symptoms usually last anywhere from one to three days.
Although people sometimes mistakenly refer to a norovirus infection as “stomach flu,” vomiting and diarrhea are not typical symptoms of influenza. Influenza is primarily a respiratory illness, characterized by symptoms like high fever, body aches, sneezing, a runny nose or a sore throat.
The key to preventing norovirus is simple, officials say. Just practice good personal hygiene and observe appropriate food-handling procedures.
“All people need to do is remember to wash their hands,” said Dr. Kirk Smith, who heads the foodborne disease unit at MDH. “Wash your hands, thoroughly and carefully, after using the toilet, before consuming food, and before preparing food for yourself or others. If everybody did that, we could prevent a majority of the illness caused by these viruses.”
Noroviruses are present in the stool and vomit of infected people, Dr. Smith said. They are spread primarily through person-to-person contact, or contamination of food prepared by a person with the illness.
Precautions that can help prevent the spread of noroviruses include:
— Washing your hands after using the toilet.
— Washing your hands before handling food or ice.
— Washing your hands before eating.
— Excusing yourself from food preparation duties if you have possible norovirus symptoms.
— Discarding foods that were handled or prepared by someone with possible norovirus symptoms; unless the food will be thoroughly cooked before serving.
— Promptly cleaning and disinfecting any surfaces that become soiled with vomit or diarrhea.
People should also remember that they can continue to spread the virus up to several days after they get over a norovirus infection, Dr. Smith emphasized.
“People who have been ill need to refrain from preparing food, commercially or for their own families, for an additional 72 hours after they get well,” he said.
The public can report suspected outbreaks of norovirus illness or other food-related illnesses to the MDH Foodborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-FOOD ILL (366-3455).