By: James Peacock
Health officials with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department are currently tracking an outbreak of norovirus linked to a local donut shop. Although there have been numerous news reports about the outbreak, and some of these reports do cite health official’s comments, the Toledo –Lucas County Health Department has yet to post a news release relating to the outbreak. They have recently posted an infographic about norovirus. Mama C’s Donuts, in Maumee, Ohio, has been closed since August 8. The donut shop has been extremely cooperative with the investigation thus far. The original announcement of the outbreak stated that there had been close to 100 cases of illness. Less than a day later, though, that number has been more than doubled. There are now between 190 and 214 people sick, and more are expected.
The process of investigating an outbreak usually occurs after there is a spike in illnesses. Health officials have studied for years the average rate that specific pathogens cause illness, and are able to track when these background infections suddenly change. When a random spike in illnesses is detected, health officials can then investigate the outbreak, usually by taking samples and by conducting interviews. There is sometimes a correlation between interview answers, which can help investigators locate a source. Although interviews can help locate potential sources, the best way for health officials to learn more about an outbreak is through the testing of samples. When medical providers retrieve samples from ill people or from the environment, the samples undergo testing to learn more about them. Samples were sent to the Ohio Department of Health for testing, and at least three have returned positive test results for the presence of norovirus. Much of the time, restaurants that cause an outbreak will close in order to inspect it and to prevent further illnesses. Health officials with the investigation also help to make sure that the restaurant is properly cleaned prior to reopening. The owners of Mama C’s Donuts hope to open the restaurant after the risk subsides, but as of August 10, the shop has been closed for three straight days. Health officials have reported that they expect the donut shop to continue to be closed for at least a few more days.
Norovirus infections are the most common source of foodborne illnesses in the United States. The Center for Disease Control estimates that there are between 19 and 21 million cases every year. Almost 2 million people are forced to contact a medical professional because of their norovirus infection. Between 56,000 and 71,000 people are hospitalized every year because of norovirus, and there are around 1,000 deaths annually. While norovirus infections are common year round, more norovirus infections are recorded in the winter months. The vast majority of norovirus cases are spread from person to person, because the virus is among the most contagious of the foodborne pathogens. Because of this, norovirus outbreaks tend to infect many people in a short period of time, and also tend to burn themselves out. Outbreaks of norovirus are commonly associated with leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish. Foods can become contaminated with norovirus at any point during the manufacturing, shipping, and cooking processes. Norovirus outbreaks are especially dangerous in areas where contact with other people is common. Healthcare facilities, schools, and daycares are some of the most common places that a norovirus outbreak may take place. Cruise ships are also a common outbreak location. Like any foodborne pathogen, norovirus outbreaks are also common at restaurants and catered events.
Although norovirus is very contagious, there are methods that can reduce the chance of an infection taking place. Norovirus being so easily spread makes hygiene one of the most important methods of preventing disease. Practicing proper hand washing will greatly reduce the risk of spreading the infection. For tips on how to practice proper hand washing, click here. Properly cooking foods is another way to reduce the chance of infection. Most meats must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to eliminate potential contaminants. Fish and other seafood will often need to be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees to achieve the same effect. A full list of proper cooking temperatures can be found here. Norovirus infections are very common from restaurants, especially because there is a huge risk involved when an employee shows up to work while sick. Because norovirus is really only spread from person to person, an ill individual can contaminate food along any point of the food production process. If you are an employee in the food service industry and are suffering from an apparent bout of norovirus, or frankly any other illness, it is imperative that you do not go in to work. It is incredibly hard to prevent cross contamination if the food handler is shedding disease-causing bacteria with every move.
The greatest risk of norovirus poisoning comes when someone is still symptomatic, or are in the first few days after recovering from the illness. A case of norovirus poisoning can cause inflammation in the stomach, as well as the intestines. Symptoms of norovirus poisoning will begin to rise between 12 and 48 hours after the first exposure to the pathogen. Commonly, a norovirus infection will produce symptoms including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. Fever, headaches, and body aches are less common symptoms but still possible. Many cases of norovirus poisoning will clear up on its own within 3 days, but in some cases, the illness may worsen. When a norovirus infection worsens, it can also cause dehydration, which will present with symptoms including decrease in urination, dry mouth, dizziness upon standing, and dry throat. Young children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems are at an increased risk of contracting a serious case of norovirus poisoning and becoming dehydrated. While there is no specific method of treating a norovirus infection, many doctors will recommend rest and hydration to treat the illness. If you or a loved one begins to show the symptoms of norovirus poisoning, contact a medical professional.