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NorovirusNoroviruses (genus Norovirus, family Caliciviridae) are a group of related, single-stranded RNA, nonenveloped viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis in humans. Norovirus was recently approved as the official genus name for the group of viruses provisionally described as "Norwalk-like viruses" (NLV). This group of viruses has also been referred to as caliciviruses (because of their virus family name) and as small round structured viruses, or SRSVs (because of their morphologic features). Another genus of the calicivirus family that can cause gastroenteritis in humans is Sapovirus, formerly described as 'Sapporo-like virus' (SLV) and sometimes referred to as classic or typical calicivirus.


Humans are the only known reservoir.


Noroviruses are transmitted primarily through the fecal-oral route, either by consumption of fecally contaminated food or water or by direct person-to-person spread. Environmental and fomite contamination may also act as a source of infection. Good evidence exists for transmission due to aerosolization of vomitus that presumably results in droplets contaminating surfaces or entering the oral mucosa and being swallowed. No evidence suggests that infection occurs through the respiratory system.

Noroviruses are highly contagious, and it is thought that an inoculum of as few as 10 viral particles may be sufficient to infect an individual. 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. Although presymptomatic viral shedding may occur, shedding usually begins with onset of symptoms and may continue for 2 weeks after recovery. It is unclear to what extent viral shedding over 72 hours after recovery signifies continued infectivity. Most foodborne 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 consumption of cold foods, including various salads, sandwiches, and bakery products. Liquid items (e.g., salad dressing or cake icing) that allow virus to mix evenly are often implicated as a cause of outbreaks. Food can also be contaminated at its source, and oysters from contaminated waters have been associated with widespread outbreaks of gastroenteritis. Other foods, including raspberries and salads, have been contaminated before widespread distribution and subsequently caused extensive outbreaks.

Among the 232 outbreaks of norovirus illness reported to CDC from July 1997 to June 2000, 57% were food borne, 16% were due to person-to-person spread, and 3% were waterborne; in 23% of outbreaks, the cause of transmission was not determined. In this study, common settings for outbreaks include restaurants and catered meals (36%), nursing homes (23%), schools (13%), and vacation settings or cruise ships (10%).

Waterborne outbreaks of norovirus disease in community settings have often been caused by sewage contamination of wells and recreational water.


No specific therapy exists for viral gastroenteritis. Symptomatic therapy consists of replacing fluid losses and correcting electrolyte disturbances through oral and intravenous fluid administration.

The incubation period for norovirus-associated gastroenteritis in humans is usually between 24 and 48 hours (median in outbreaks 33 to 36 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. Recovery is usually complete and there is no evidence of any serious long-term effects. Studies with volunteers given stool filtrates have shown that asymptomatic infection may occur in as many as 30% of infections, although the role of asymptomatic infection in norovirus transmission is not well understood.

questionNoroviruses are named after the original strain "Norwalk virus," which caused an outbreak of gastroenteritis in a school in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968. Currently, there are at least four norovirus genogroups (GI, GII, GIII and GIV), which in turn are divided into at least 20 genetic clusters.

CDC estimates that 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are due to norovirus infection, and it is now thought that at least 50% of all food borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis can be attributed to noroviruses.


Prevention of food borne norovirus disease is based on the provision of safe food and water. Noroviruses are relatively resistant to environmental challenge: they are able to survive freezing, temperatures as high as 60°C, and have even been associated with illness after being steamed in shellfish. Moreover, noroviruses can survive in up to 10 ppm chlorine, well in excess of levels routinely present in public water systems. Despite these features, it is likely that relatively simple measures, such as correct handling of cold foods, frequent handwashing, and paid sick leave, may substantially reduce food borne transmission of noroviruses. There are currently no disinfectants listed with an approved efficacy claim against Norovirus.

To help prevent Norovirus infections, you can take the following precautions:
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and thoroughly steam oysters before eating them.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness using a bleach-based or phenolic based cleaner disinfectant.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (using hot water and detergent).
  • Flush and discard any vomitus and/or stool in the toilet and make sure the surrounding area is thoroughly cleaned.
  • Check with the local health department to obtain any additional recommendations for environmental sanitation recommendations.

LYSOL® Hand Washing Poster

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