Norovirus Strikes Health DepartmentDec 23, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP It seems no one is immune to the effects of food poisoning. According to several reports, workers from an Illinois Health Department—normally charged with finding the source of such outbreaks— have become victims of norovirus. According to NPR, about 40 people became sick after attending the Lawrence County Health Department holiday party at a local venue. NPR says the cold, diced ham at the buffet salad bar was the likely offender.
At least 72 people attended the party, said City News, with 42 becoming sick, also noting that the illness probably originated from the ham. Those who did not suffer contamination are investigating the restaurant to confirm the source, reported City News, which said that the restaurant remains closed.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that the 42 health Department workers became ill with gastrointestinal problems and that one of those who fell ill was the Lawrence County Health Department head, Phyllis Wells, who told the AP that the outbreak’s source has not yet been identified. Wells believes, said the AP, that it is likely that norovirus is to blame and that a food server might have been ill at the time and touched the food that sickened her staff.
Norovirus is actually a group of viruses that cause the stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, in people; are not helped by treatment with antibiotics; and cannot grow outside of a person’s body. People can become infected with the virus by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; and having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill). Persons working in day-care centers or nursing homes should pay special attention to children or residents who have norovirus illness.
People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most get better within one-to-two days, and suffer no long-term health effects; however, sometimes people are unable to drink enough liquids to replenish the liquids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea and can become dehydrated and require special medical attention. This typically occurs with the very young, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
To decrease your chance of coming in contact with 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); and flush or discard any vomitus and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.