Norovirus now leading cause of severe intestinal disorders in children

Norovirus under the microscope

Norovirus under the microscope

A recent study released by the CDC has determined that norovirus is now the leading cause of gastroenteritis among U.S. children less than 5 years of age. In 2009 and 2010 alone, about 1 million children landed in the doctor’s office or hospital due to the virus, racking up an estimated $273 million in treatment costs per year.

Norovirus (often referred to as "stomach flu" or "food poisoning") is characterized by nausea, intense vomiting, and severe diarrhea, sometimes leading to dangerous levels of dehydration. Infections are on the rise worldwide and can be especially dangerous for those with more susceptible immune systems, namely the elderly and young children. In fact, researchers predict that 1 in 14 children will visit an emergency room and 1 in 6 will receive outpatient care for norovirus infections before their 5th birthday.

As both a surface and an airborne pathogen, norovirus is extremely contagious and difficult to kill. It takes only a few particles to contract norovirus and an infected person can begin spreading it before getting sick and for up to 2 weeks after recovery. What’s more, it can live for weeks on hard surfaces and typical surface cleaners are not effective in removing the virus. Hand sanitizers have also been shown to be ineffectual in fighting norovirus.

Recent studies have also demonstrated that hand-washed dishes are especially likely to carry the virus due to the fact that water cannot get hot enough to kill it when washing by hand. This could be one reason why norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne disease outbreaks.

The CDC recommends vigorous hand washing with very hot water for at least 30 seconds to help prevent the spread of norovirus, along with washing the clothes of infected persons with very hot water and bleach.

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