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A recent case of norovirus at an Arby’s in Springfield, Illinois serves as a reminder that, while things start to get better in the United States, there are still a range of foodborne illnesses that we need to stay vigilant against. Hereis one: Arby’s Norovirus Outbreak.
More than 100 people fell ill after eating at an Arby’s location in Springfield, Illinois this march causing the location to close twice in a month. Norovirus, which is spread orally-to-fecally through particles too small to see, is a highly contagious, flu-like illness that causes several outbreaks of foodborne illness each year.
An investigation by the health department flagged some conditions at the Arby’s that might be cause for concern. According to the Illinois Times, an investigation of the conditions there during the early stages of the outbreak raised some red flags. Proper food handling protocol dictates that ingredients need to be stored at appropriate temperatures so as to discourage the spread of pathogens. A visit by the health department to this location found that meats, eggs, and sauces were not being stored at those safe temperatures. Probes used for checking food were kept in an area visibly soiled with dust and debris.
Furthermore, managers at this particular location hadn’t bothered to follow up with employees who had called in sick during the early days of the outbreak. Because norovirus is so contagious, followup can be helpful in trying to determine what illness
Arby’s put out a statement to the website Eat This, Not That. Here’s what their spokesperson had to say: “”Arby’s is committed to the highest levels of hygiene and food safety standards, and this is an isolated incident at a franchised location. Last week, out of an abundance of caution, the franchisee proactively decided to close the restaurant through the end of the month. The franchisee is fully engaged with the local health department and has conducted a professional deep clean, reinforced food safety training with all employees, and will have met all health department guidelines before reopening.”
Norovirus is extremely contagious. The outbreaks it causes grow to a considerable size quickly. Although the reproduction rate varies widely depending on the strain and the setting, it’s been clocked at high as 7 before – meaning that every person who gets the virus will pass it on to an average 7 people more. For reference, that’s more than twice as contagious as SARS CoV-2, which has a raw reproduction rate between 2 and 3.
Norovirus is also a leading driver of foodborne illness outbreaks. According to the CDC, it’s actually the number one cause of such events, accounting for about 50% of the foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States each year.
There are steps that you can take to try and prevent transmission of the norovirus. First among these is the tried-and-true strategy of washing your hands on a regular basis. Particular care should be taken to do so when preparing or handling food or after using the bathroom.
At this point, we hope everyone in the world is well and familiar with how to properly wash their hands If you still don’t know, however, here’s a quick refresher: use hot water and plenty of soap to get a good lather on during 20 seconds of vigorous friction. Make sure that you get all the hard-to-reach areas or sometimes forgotten areas, like the back of your hands or the spaces between your fingers.
Because norovirus is fecal-to-oral, you can’t get it from being coughed on, or from someone’s sneeze, or from anything like that. As stated above, it comes from tiny particles of fecal matter that are ingested by accident: they end up on food, or in something that you drink, or on your hands, and then they get transferred to the mouth. This means that vigorous hand washing, on the part of both the people who prepare food and the people who eat it, is the best defense against norovirus. This, combined with good food safety best practices, can keep your chances of transmission low.
Even the most careful hand-washers sometimes get sick. How will you know if you fall ill with the norovirus? The classic symptoms are consistent with other common foodborne illnesses. According to the CDC, norovirus causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Fever, headaches, and bodyaches are sometimes seen as well. The stomach problems are related to the inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This condition is called gastroenteritis.
Prolonged bouts of diarrhea or vomiting can drain the body of its fluids. This can lead to dehydration. Dehydrated people sometimes experience a dryness in their throat and mouth; they can feel dizzy when standing up, and they won’t urinate as often as they’re used to. To avoid dehydration, take care to try and replace the fluids that you’re losing through vomit or diarrhea. If you can’t keep fluids down for an extended period of time, you should consult a medical professional.
Here’s what the CDC has to say about it: “If you have norovirus illness, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from vomiting and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration.
Dehydration can lead to serious problems. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your vein (intravenous or IV fluids). Watch for signs of dehydration in children who have norovirus illness. Children who are dehydrated may cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy. If you think you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, call your healthcare provider.”