Over the last few weeks the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness has investigated several outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease associated with food service establishments.
For some of these events the department has documented that a new strain of norovirus that is spreading widely throughout the United States was the cause and that the virus had infected food service workers. These circumstances prompt the Department of Health and Wellness to issue advice on steps everyone, particularly food service establishments, can take to avoid this common and unpleasant gastrointestinal illness.
The most important step in controlling the spread of this virus is regular hand washing with soap and water. Noroviruses are easily transmitted by touching a contaminated surface as well as by direct contact or by eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus. Noroviruses are notoriously difficult to kill with normal cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Surfaces that have been contaminated with stool or vomit should be cleaned immediately and disinfected with a freshly prepared diluted bleach solution or a bleach-based household cleaner.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Some may have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The symptoms can begin suddenly and an infected person may go from feeling well to very sick in a very short period of time. In most people, the illness lasts for about one or two days. People infected with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least three days after they recover. There is no specific treatment for norovirus. People infected with the virus should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Because of these circumstances the CDC recommends that employees of food service establishments remain vigilant in executing the following procedures:
• Do not prepare food while sick or three days after the illness ends
• Wash hands carefully and frequently with soap and water
• Wash fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly
• Clean and disinfect kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces that may have norovirus on them
• Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry thoroughly
For more information about norovirus, see the CDC Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/.