By Lavonne Meyer
I was able to attend the National Environmental Health Association conference in Washington DC in July. It was a valuable conference as I learned so much new information. One of my favorite sessions was a panel discussion about Norovirus. This became a popular topic a few years ago when there were large outbreaks on cruise ships. Many times, when you hear about a “flu-outbreak” in an elementary school, it is because of Norovirus.
Norovirus outbreaks are a constant threat to all of us, as research shows they are the leading cause of food borne illness. In fact, 41% of food borne illnesses is from Norovirus. For residents in long-term care facilities, they can claim 59% of all cases.
To put the numbers into perspective, consider this. There are 1011 of Norovirus per gram or ml of feces – this equates to the number of stars in the Milky Way. There are 106 of Norovirus per gram or ml in vomit – this equates to the number of people in Atlanta, Georgia. After a vomit situation, the Norovirus can spread 27 feet, which is generally the size of school classrooms.
Norovirus is moderately resistant to disinfectants. Restrooms are a hazardous area because of Norovirus becoming aerosolized- creating a need for “flush and run”. Hand washing is still the best defense. Hand-sanitizers cannot replace hand washing, but they can supplement hand washing. Gloves can create an additional barrier to prevent transmission to food, but must be used in addition to hand washing.
The virus can live for several hours – up to a month on a doorknob, depending on the conditions of the environment. Norovirus likes wet conditions, which makes it important to dry your hands.
Research has shown a 7 x transfer of the virus on foods or other surfaces. This means that if a spoon has been touched by someone with Norovirus on their hands, it can be transferred to other hands, food, or utensil seven times. Lettuce (which is a wet surface) has shown a 10 x transfer. One of the leading causes of contamination on cruise ships is the serving utensils on buffet lines. Everyone that passes through the buffet touches the same serving spoons, giving the virus many opportunities to transfer.
For more information, contact SDSU Food Safety Field Specialist Lavonne Meyer http://igrow.org/about/authors/lavonne-meyer/ at the Sioux Falls Regional Extension Center at 605.782-3290 or firstname.lastname@example.org