A new strain of norovirus, the bug that causes intestinal illness, has been discovered in Minnesota. That could mean more outbreaks this winter. The new strain, called GII.17 Kawasaki, originated in Asia.
The Minnesota Department of Health said that they have investigated more than 20 norovirus outbreaks in that state since the beginning of September 2015. The new strain showed up in sporadic cases earlier this year. But the first outbreak caused by this strain was reported last week.
Norovirus is extremely contagious. It is passed from person-to-person by the fecal-oral route through casual contact and through touching common surfaces. It is also spread through food and drink. Most people think this is the “stomach flu”, but norovirus is not related to the influenza virus, which causes a respiratory illness.
Amy Saupe, a foodborne disease epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health said in a statement, “every few years, a new strain of norovirus emerges and causes many illnesses. We don’t know yet if this new strain will lead to an increase in the number of outbreaks reported, but it could. If we’re meticulous about washing our hands and handling food properly, we may be able to limit the impact.”
The symptoms of a norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, a mild fever, and a run-down feeling. The symptoms begin 24 to 48 hours after exposure and usually last one to two days. Most people recover on their own, but some can become so dehydrated they must be hospitalized. Unfortunately, people are most infectious before symptoms appear and can remain infectious after they are better.
The virus comes from the feces of someone who is sick. It only takes a microscopic amount of contaminated feces to infect another person. That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, especially if you are sick. That means using soap and washing for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing your hands under running water and drying with a clean towel. And if you have a diarrheal illness, never prepare or serve food for others.
Saupe aded, “fecal-oral transmission sounds gross, but it’s important for people to understand that they may have gotten their norovirus from food, and that they could pass the virus to others by handling food, even after their symptoms are gone.” Norovirus is the most common cause of food-related illness in Minnesota and throughout the country.
A norovirus outbreak linked to the Chipotle restaurant on Cleveland Circle in Boston sickened at least 153 Boston College students earlier this month, including members of the basketball team. The restaurant was closed for deep cleaning after the outbreak, and the manager of the facility was fired. That was the sixth outbreak of foodborne illness linked to that specific restaurant chain in the last six months. Two E. coli outbreaks, one in the Midwest and one centered in the Northwest U.S., a Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, and another norovirus outbreak in California affected patrons of the restaurant this year.