Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Don't Want the Norovirus? Then Don't Eat At Restaurants!

Norovirus closes hundreds of wards

The norovirus is a nasty gastro-intestinal bug, normally associated with the hapless folks sickened on cruise ships. However, in 2012 we learned of one the largest outbreaks for land lubbers - in both the U.S. ( 1/2 million cases reported) and UK(900,000 cases). Though the bug isn't life threatening (except perhaps for vulnerable seniors or infants) it does leave a literal mess in its wake - as the victim can't control output from either end of the gastrointestinal tract.

Now, from CDC data, we learn that 70 percent of all norovirus cases can be traced to restaurants - which translates to 14 million of the 20 million cases reported annually. In nearly all the reported restaurant cases, the source could be traced to sick workers who were not allowed to take any time off to get better.  Given that anything touched is effectively contaminated, and the virus can remain active and infecting for nearly 2 weeks - it stands to reason such policies amount to a disaster, Worse, it only takes a virus content that can fit on the head of a pin to sicken dozens.

On the NBC News last night one woman reported her experience recently (Memorial Day) when she and her hubby ate in what they had thought was a nice restaurant. He wanted pineapple so had a few slices but wasn't aware it was contaminated. Within 12 hours he was "going both ways" and since it is virtually impossible to avoid being sickened unless one is sequestered, she got it too. Both spent 4 days of their holiday in their hotel rooms.

My wife and I each contracted norovirus then making the rounds in Barbados in December, 1991, one month before we left for the States. It was god-awful. I got it first, and within hours was going both ends non-stop. My wife, bless her, tried to clean up after me but caught it after doing so (she needed to have used latex gloves then washed with germicidal soap after). Within a day both of us were so badly dehydrated we had to go to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for intravenous fluids.

Later, in 2006, while staying at the Flamingo in Vegas, we were on our way out to the Strip when we beheld maids piling soiled linens on their carts from several rooms. We overhead one say to the other that it was "horrible" and several guests were ill with "gastro". Likely culprit : Norovirus!

If your clothing, bed linens do get messed up - and they WILL - you or someone will need to get them washed with bleach at 60 C, no less. You definitely can't let any contaminated linens, clothing lying around. If someone in the house (or hotel room)  does get infected they need to be isolated as far as feasible and all wares used by them prevented from circulating to anyone else. Thorough washing needs to be done by everyone, especially the person or persons attending to the sick. That means soiled clothing too! (Norovirus can incept projectile vomiting. It happened to me!)

Anchor Anne Curry, in the NBC piece,  repeated the CDC warnings that scrupulous care must be taken by restaurants  - both in food handling and in wait staff  hygiene. One restaurant shown, 'Clyde's' in D.C. - featured wait staff, cooks, others having their hands checked regularly using a device that reveals the virus when directed at exposed skin. However, the best protection is clearly not allowing any norovirus -sickened workers near food or patrons.

The best protection then would be to avoid ALL restaurants that don't allow time off for illness,  which proportion is estimated to be at least 50%.

Otherwise, eat at those venues at your own risk!

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