Norovirus Outbreak Traced to Reusable Grocery Bag

Infection spread after one girl became sick during soccer team travels

WEDNESDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- A case study showing how a grocery bag and its contents caused an outbreak of the stomach bug norovirus highlights the role that inanimate objects can play in such outbreaks, researchers say.

The study appears online May 9 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Noroviruses are highly contagious and the leading cause of gastroenteritis (commonly called stomach flu) worldwide. They also are the most common cause of food-borne outbreaks in the United States, according to a journal news release.

In this study, researchers examined a norovirus outbreak that occurred in a group of 17 girls, aged 13 or 14, and their four adult chaperones attending a soccer tournament in Washington state.

There were eight cases of norovirus infection in the group, including the patient who was believed to have been infected prior to the trip. This girl had no contact with her teammates after her initial symptoms began. She moved into a chaperone's room and then began vomiting and having diarrhea in that bathroom.

Several days later, other members of the group began having symptoms. The researchers concluded that they were infected by norovirus after handling a bag of snacks that had been stored in the bathroom where the first girl was sick.

Airborne norovirus within the bathroom likely settled onto the open grocery bag and its contents, the researchers concluded.

The findings confirm the high risk of contamination of surfaces in norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, in nursing homes and in other group settings, said researchers Kimberly Repp, of Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, and William Keene, of the Oregon Public Health Division, also in Portland.

"While we certainly recommend not storing food in bathrooms, it is more important to emphasize that areas where [airborne] exposures may have occurred should be thoroughly disinfected," the researchers said in the news release. "This includes not only exposed surfaces, but also objects in the environment" that could become contaminated and spread infection.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about noroviruses.

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