Monday, December 31, 2012

Norovirus

From Reuters (h/t Drudge):
"Norovirus is one of the most infectious viruses of man," said Ian Goodfellow, a professor of virology at the department of pathology at Britain's University of Cambridge, who has been studying noroviruses for 10 years.

... In Britain so far this season, more than a million people are thought to have suffered the violent vomiting and diarrhea it can bring. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said this high rate of infection relatively early in the winter mirrors trends seen in Japan and Europe.

"In Australia the norovirus season also peaks during the winter, but this season it has gone on longer than usual and they are seeing cases into their summer," it said in a statement.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say norovirus causes 21 million illnesses annually. Of those who get the virus, some 70,000 require hospitalization and around 800 die each year.

... Norovirus dates back more than 40 years and takes its name from the U.S. city of Norwalk, Ohio, where there was an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis in school children in November 1968.

Symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting, which can be projectile, and diarrhea, which may be profuse and watery. Some victims also suffer fevers, headaches and stomach cramps.

... What makes this such a formidable enemy is its ability to evade death from cleaning and to survive long periods outside a human host. Scientists have found norovirus can remain alive and well for 12 hours on hard surfaces and up to 12 days on contaminated fabrics such as carpets and upholstery. In still water, it can survive for months, maybe even years.

... Add the fact that norovirus is particularly resistant to normal household disinfectants and even alcohol hand gels, and it's little wonder the sickness wreaks such havoc in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, cruise ships and hotels.

During the two weeks up to December 23, there were 70 hospital outbreaks of norovirus reported in Britain, and last week a cruise ship that sails between New York and Britain's Southampton docked in the Caribbean with about 200 people on board suffering suspected norovirus.

... the virus changes constantly, making it a moving target for drug developers. There is also evidence that humans' immune response to infection is short-lived, so people can become re-infected by the same virus within just a year or two.

... Their advice is to stay away from anyone with the virus, and use soap and water liberally.

"One of the reasons norovirus spreads so fast is that the majority of people don't wash their hands for long enough," said Goodfellow. "We'd suggest people count to 15 while washing their hands and ensure their hands are dried completely."

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