Foodborne illness has been in the news again with a norovirus outbreak striking a Chipotle restaurant and sickening over 100 Boston College students. Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach illness that can cause severe stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s pretty uncomfortable, but most people start feeling better a day or two after they become sick. However, norovirus can be dangerous for the very young and the very old because it can cause dehydration.
People get norovirus if they accidentally get some of the virus in their mouth. This can happen if they eat and drink things contaminated with the virus, touch surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then put their fingers in their mouths, or have contact with someone who has norovirus. Many norovirus outbreaks happen in food establishments, like restaurants, if food workers come to work sick and touch ready-to-eat foods, like fruits and vegetables, with their bare hands.
Because norovirus is so contagious, prevention is key. Always wash hands after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not work against norovirus, so it’s important to use soap and water to clean your hands if you are sick with norovirus or taking care of someone who is. If you have a stomach illness, you should not prepare food for anyone until you are feeling better. Norovirus can stay in your body for at least 2 weeks after you start feeling better, so it’s best to limit food preparation during that entire time if possible.
Norovirus outbreaks are reported in Arizona every year, and have been associated with restaurants, schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, prisons, and social gatherings. In 2014, over 100 gastrointestinal illness outbreaks were reported in Arizona, nearly half of which were caused by norovirus. Check out our website for information about detecting and managing a norovirus outbreak.