MAYVILLE - As is typical this time of year, outbreaks of noroviruses are being seen throughout the county.
"Many people commonly refer to having the "stomach flu" when in fact what they have is a norovirus - totally unrelated to influenza," says Christine Schuyler, county Public Health director.
Prevention of this disease is based on providing safe food and water. Correct handling of cold foods, frequent handwashing, and workers staying home when sick can substantially reduce food-borne transmission of Noroviruses. According to the CDC, Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.
Common settings for outbreaks include restaurants and catered meals, nursing homes, schools and vacation settings or cruise ships. Most food-borne outbreaks of norovirus illness are likely to arise though direct contamination of food by a food handler immediately before its consumption. Outbreaks have frequently been associated with the consumption of cold foods, including various salads, sandwiches and bakery products.
Noroviruses are highly contagious. They are transmitted primarily through the fecal-oral route, either by consumption of fecally contaminated food or water or by direct person-to-person spread.
The incubation period for Norovirus-associated gastroenteritis in humans is usually between 24 and 48 hours, but cases can occur within 12 hours of exposure. Norovirus infection usually presents as acute-onset vomiting, watery non-bloody diarrhea with abdominal cramps, and nausea.
Low-grade fever also occasionally occurs, and vomiting is more common in children. Dehydration is the most common complication, especially among the young and elderly, and may require medical attention. Symptoms usually last 24 to 60 hours, and recovery is usually complete.
During outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis, several modes of transmission have been documented; for example, initial food-borne transmission in a restaurant, followed by secondary person-to-person transmission to household contacts. Viral shedding usually begins with onset of symptoms and may continue for two weeks after recovery.
No specific therapy exists for viral gastroenteritis. Symptomatic therapy consists of replacing fluid losses and correcting electrolyte disturbances through oral and intravenous fluid administration.
Take care of yourself, your loved ones, and your customers by correctly handling cold foods, washing hands frequently, wearing gloves where indicated, and staying home from work when sick. Prevention of food-borne norovirus disease is based on the provision of safe food and water.
For more information, contact the Chautauqua County Department of Health at 1-866-604-6789.