A town in North Carolina named Transylvania had more than 200 reports of foodborne illness reported in late July and into early August. Over 70 of those reports came from medical providers while the remaining were telephone calls to the local Public Health. These reports all had similar characteristics including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
It wasn’t very long and the mystery illness had a name: norovirus. In a public statement from Transylvania Public Health the following information was released:
Although more information is continuing to come in, Transylvania Public Health has received more than 70 cases of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea reported by medical providers, as well as phone calls reporting similar symptoms in more than 200 people since Tuesday, July 31.
Norovirus typically causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain that lasts for 1 to 3 days. Other symptoms can include fever, headache and body aches. These symptoms and length of illness match closely with the symptoms being reported by those who are ill.
People get norovirus from direct contact with an infected person, consuming food or water that has been contaminated with norovirus or touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth. It only takes a few virus particles to make someone sick, and those who are ill shed billions of these particles. People are most contagious when they are having symptoms like vomiting and for the first few days after recovering, although they can spread norovirus for two weeks or more after they feel better.
Norovirus symptoms usually appear 24-48 hours after being exposed to the virus. Many (but not all) of the people who reported symptoms to us recalled visiting a local restaurant 1-2 days before becoming ill. Other people reported having close contact with someone who had norovirus symptoms prior to becoming ill.
Public health officials do not believe that this outbreak is connected to the multi-state recall of salads due to cyclosporiasis contamination.
The Common Factor:
Many people who became ill had eaten at a McDonalds in the area and due to recent scares surrounding this restaurant chain the location in Brevard County closed and deep cleaned voluntarily while in the middle of the food illness outbreak.
The county was so concerned about the unknown as far as the outbreak was concerned that they urged residents to bleach after any vomiting or diarrhea and to not prepare any food for other people for 24-36 hours after symptoms stopped.
A First Hand Account:
According to local news station WMYA a local resident who became sickened gave his first hand account of what this illness was like in part saying
“It started out like a normal day, felt good,” outbreak victim William Teague said.
A co-worker brought him breakfast about 10:30 a.m. Monday from a fast-food restaurant in Brevard.
“It was a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit,” Teague said.
About two hours later, Teague did not feel so good anymore.
“It felt like somebody was stabbing me in the stomach,” Teague said. “I can’t say a whole lot about how it felt, because it was just miserable.”
Teague said he kept vomiting. It was some of the worst pain he ever felt.
“I would’ve been fine if somebody would’ve put a bullet in me right then and there,” Teague said. “I hope nobody has to go through anything like that, and it’s sad that they do.”
People continued calling into Transylvania Public Health and visiting the hospital, like Teague, who was taken there by his wife.
“They put, of course, two bags of fluid in me,” Teague said. “I ain’t never had nothing like that.”
How to Prevent Norovirus
According to the CDC there are many ways you can prevent the spread of norovirus
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
- especially after using the toilet or changing diapers
- always before eating, preparing, or handling food, and
- before giving yourself or someone else medicine.
Norovirus can be found in your vomit or poop even before you start feeling sick. The virus can stay in your poop for 2 weeks or more after you feel better. It is important to continue washing your hands often during this time.
You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in addition to hand washing. But, you should not use hand sanitizer as a substitute for washing your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers aren’t as effective as washing hands with soap and water at removing norovirus particles.
Handle and prepare food safely
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant to heat. They can survive temperatures as high as 145°F and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish.
- Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
- Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.
Wash laundry thoroughly
Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or poop.
- handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
- wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, and
- wash the items with detergent and hot water at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them at the highest heat setting.
If you suspect that you have been affected by norovirus contact your local health care provider. Dehydration is a leading cause of complications so be sure to stay hydrated with water and sports drinks. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which can dehydrate you even more and be aware that severe dehydration can lead to intravenous fluids administered by a medical professional.
Be very aware when taking care of children of the elderly when dealing with this type of illness and take extra caution if you are pregnant as well.
You may also consider speaking with your local health department if your doctors office does not report to let them know that you have been ill and the symptoms that you have as well as places you have frequented or dined in.
By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)