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Jan 02 2013

Norovirus pays a holiday visit

Well I am back blogging, refreshed after nice holiday break spent at home. We had both daughters and their significant others with us and since this happens so rarely now that they are grown and have their own lives and careers, I took advantage of the opportunity to just hang out with them.

The post-Christmas period after most of them had left was interrupted by an outbreak of a virus that laid everyone low. It was likely the norovirus, which is very contagious and its symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps, low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue) can be quite severe.

About twenty of us attended a post-Christmas party and all but three people came down with it up to three days later, even after some had left town soon after. According to the CDC “Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes about 21 million illnesses and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths. Norovirus is also the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States.”

I was surprised that I had not heard about this virus before, given that it has been around for a long time and is so common and global.

The bad news is that that there is no treatment or vaccine for it and one does not develop any immunity after getting it, so you can get it again and again. The good news is that it goes away by itself in a day or two and that one recovers as long as one stays well hydrated, though of course extra precautions should be taken with very young children and those who suffer from other serious ailments.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    daved

    Norovirus is probably best known for being the usual cause of outbreaks of vomiting, diarrhea, etc, on cruise ships. Because it’s so contagious, and the cruise ship is a closed space, it’s an ideal environment for the virus to spread.

  2. 2
    Matt Penfold

    It is also a hard virus to kill.Not so much of a problem of hard surfaces, as you can spray liberally with disinfectant, but it clings to soft surfaces such a bedding, carpets, curtains and clothing,

    It plays havoc in hospitals, as the only way to eradicate it from a ward is to close the ward and do a serious deep clean. And it strikes at the time of year when hospital beds are subject to the greatest demand.

  3. 3
    Anthony K

    It plays havoc in hospitals, as the only way to eradicate it from a ward is to close the ward and do a serious deep clean.

    My partner works in a care facility with seniors with advanced dementia and mental health issues, and they’ve had an outbreak of norovirus. She loves what she does, but it’s especially straining to work with patients who are already distressed, spitting, biting, and punching, when vomiting and diarrhea are added to the mix.

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    I vaguely remember that norovirus infects the GI lining, mainly in the large and small intestine. When the infection leads to inflammation, the body simply ejects the lining. Any immunity to the virus is slight and doesn’t last long, as the virus isn’t allowed to stay long enough for the adaptive immune system to kick in. Unfortunately, this protection mechanism is also how the virus spreads.

  5. 5
    Tracey

    Sorry to hear you were ill. Something like that made the rounds of my east-coast neighborhood, too. Tis the season?

  6. 6
    Reginald Selkirk

    If I read correctly, you and your family were not positively diagnosed with norovirus, you are just conveying a guess based on the list of symptoms. There are a lot of viruses out there, and they tend to get lumped into broad artificial categories such as “a cold” or “the flu.”
    .
    There is still a lot out there in the world of biology that is unknown, and the techniques for investigation are better than ever. Bad news for your family perhaps, but a potential field of investigation for rising scientists.
    .
    Some headlines from 2012 (no links to avoid complications, but easy enough to find):
    “New virus found in Missouri, ticks suspected”
    “New SARS-like virus found, man critically ill in UK”
    “An old disease returns: dengue is in Florida and may be heading north”
    .
    Norovirus articles from 2013:
    “Vomiting Larry battles ‘Ferrari of the virus world’”
    “Norovirus outbreak at Royal Columbian forces quarantine”

  7. 7
    Reginald Selkirk

    One other odd point about informal diagnosis – sometimes people who “have a virus” actually have a bacterial infection instead.

  8. 8
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    My partner works in a care facility with seniors with advanced dementia and mental health issues, and they’ve had an outbreak of norovirus. She loves what she does, but it’s especially straining to work with patients who are already distressed, spitting, biting, and punching, when vomiting and diarrhea are added to the mix.

    Your partner sounds like a hero (and knowing what I do of you, I’m not at all surprised she’s your partner).

  9. 9
    Anthony K

    That’s kind of you to say, SC, but she doesn’t see herself as a hero.

    I was pretty pleased when she called out her family for slut-shaming, though.

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