norovirusNatalie Angier, wrote about noroviruses in yesterday’s New York Times.  Her family had a run-in with a norovirus after New Year’s Eve, and she did some research into norovuiruses.  Part of what she found is this:

Its sour suite of symptoms is often referred to as “stomach flu,” but norovirus infection is distinct from the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and targets not the gut but the lungs.

Well, not that distinct. Noroviruses, flu viruses, the rhino and corona viruses that cause the common cold, the herpes virus that causes the cold sore, all are active players in the wheezing ambient pleurisy of January.

According to, a website about norovirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that noroviruses cause 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis annually, making noroviruses the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States.  Of viruses, only the common cold is reported more often than viral gastroenteritis (norovirus).  Transmission occurs either person-to-person or through contamination of food or water. Foodborne norovirus transmission can occur when food is contaminated by an infected food handler; noroviruses are recognized as causing over half of all foodborne illness outbreaks.

In comparison to bacterial sources of foodborne illness such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, norovirus causes a relatively short illness.  Angier addresses this fact in her article with a quote from Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:

“Our bodies spontaneously recover from viruses more so than overwhelming bacterial infections,” said [Fauci. “Viral infections have shaped the nature of the human immune system, and we have adapted to mount a very effective response against most of the viruses that we confront.” Vaccines accentuate this facility, he added, which is why vaccination programs have been most successful in preventing viral diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes the following recommendations regarding preventing the spread of norovirus:

  • Frequently wash your hands, especially after toilet visits and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
  • Flush or discard any vomitus and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.