WMU News

To stem spread of Norwalk, wash hands, cook thoroughly

Feb. 1, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Norwalk virus, one of the many causes of gastroenteritis, was isolated on the Western Michigan University campus recently, according to Sindecuse Health Center officials.

NV may cause sporadic disease in individuals or widespread outbreaks. It is very common, causing an estimated 23 million cases annually. Disease symptoms include nausea and vomiting, followed by diarrhea. Some individuals develop fevers, cramps, muscle pains and headaches. Typically, the illness starts one to two days after ingesting NV and lasts for an additional one to two days.

The illness is self-limited; no medications are recommended and treatment is supportive as for other cases of vomiting and diarrhea. Serious complications, such as dehydration requiring hospitalization, are rare.

Primary spread of NV is through ingestion of contaminated food or water. Since spread of NV is fecal-oral, secondary spread can be prevented through appropriate hand washing and disposal of infectious materials. This is very important, since NV can be shed in the stool for three weeks. Raw vegetables and undercooked seafood are commonly contaminated food sources. Appropriate preparation of foods also helps prevent transmission of NV.

No testing of individuals is done to confirm NV when sporadic cases of diarrhea are present. When an outbreak is suspected, however, there is a requirement to notify the local public health department, which helps direct stool sample collection and testing, and oversees the investigation of the potential cause or causes of the outbreak. The Sindecuse Health Center performed all of these procedures during the recent outbreak, and, per the center's normal operating procedures, all facets of the investigative work maintained the confidentiality of affected individuals.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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