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In the United States, norovirus (or Norwalk virus) is the among the leading causes of illness and outbreaks from contaminated foods. Many of us know of this virus as the “cruise ship virus”. This is due to the fact that the virus flourishes in close, contained quarters. In fact, outbreaks on cruise ships only account for 1 percent of all reported cases.
Norovirus can appear any time after consuming contaminated food or water, but most symptoms appear 12 to 48 hours later. Norovirus is highly contagious. The CDC estimates that each year in the United States norovirus causes 19 to 21 million illnesses, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations, and 570 to 800 deaths. In fact, it is estimated that people can contract this virus up to five times in their lifetime.
Norovirus is “any of a genus of small, round, single-stranded RNA viruses that includes a single species (Norwalk virus) with various strains causing acute gastroenteritis in people and animals.” Of more interest are what the virus can do to our bodies, and how this virus is spread.
Norovirus can be found in foods such as leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish (such as oysters). It can also be present in contaminated water. Although the most publicized outbreaks of this virus are associated with cruise ships, norovirus can occur in day care centers, nursing homes, and schools: anywhere where conditions are crowded and transmission is more likely. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Outbreak Reporting System, schools and daycare settings, health care facilities, private residences and other make up approximately 19 percent of reported outbreaks. Banquet and catering facilities comprise 17 percent. Restaurants 64 percent of the remaining outbreaks.
Common symptoms of norovirus food poisoning include:
Norovirus infection symptoms usually begin with vomiting and/or diarrhea, and alleviate within one to three days. But an infected person may still shed the virus in their feces for up to two weeks. Infants and young children, the elderly, and persons with immune-compromised diseases should be vigilant if they have contracted this virus as severe dehydration can occur, resulting in hospitalization.
Warning signs of dehydration include fatigue, dry mouth, listlessness, dizziness, and decreased urine output. Infants and young children may cry with no tears and be very fussy or very sleepy. Always seek immediate medical attention if you have diarrhea that doesn’t go away after a few days, severe vomiting, bloody stools, and any of the aforementioned symptoms of dehydration.
Norovirus is usually spread by the fecal–oral route, and typically through a sick food service worker. Some methods of transmission include:
Doctors can diagnose a norovirus infection based upon your symptoms or a stool sample. Treatment involves rest and fluids to replenish those lost through vomiting and diarrhea. But if you’re unable to “hold anything down”, intravenous fluids are recommended. Also, you may need to take anti-diarrheal medication, but only with the approval of your health care provider, especially if you are over the age of 65.
If you have young children or infants at home, commercial oral hydration solutions such as Pedialyte are a good choice. On the other hand, drinks that contain a lot of sugar, such as fruit juices or fruit drinks can actually worsen diarrhea. Adults, however, can drink oral hydration solutions like Gatorade.
To alleviate the frequency of vomiting and diarrhea, consuming bland foods can help:
One of the most significant causes of norovirus contamination originates from the food service industry. What is particularly disturbing about this fact is that food service workers often report to their jobs when they are sick, increasing the risk of contaminating the food that they handle. One in five food service workers have reported working while sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea, fearing the possibility of losing their jobs or leaving their coworkers short-staffed.
Of the outbreaks associated with food service workers, ready-to-eat foods (those served without additional food preparation), such as raw vegetables, salads, and baked goods account for 54% of norovirus infections from workers touch or handle these foods with their bare hands. Of even greater concern is that observation of these food service workers revealed that they washed their hands only one in four times that they should.
To compound this problem, norovirus is very difficult to kill, and remains potentially infectious on foods at freezing temperatures and until heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the virus can remain on countertops and serving utensils for up to two weeks. Even hand sanitizers can be ineffective.
At the federal government level, foodborne pathogens and their outbreaks are obvious causes for concern. Federal agencies are working with state and local agencies to encourage the adoption and effective implementation of all FDA Food Code provisions. Additional funding, however, is critical for the detection, response, investigation, and reporting of norovirus outbreaks.
While not currently addressed to a great extent in recent reports, the addition of block chain technology may exponentially assist in determining the source of outbreaks so that appropriate recalls are issued more rapidly. With regard to the food service industry, manufacturers, vendors, and distributors of food products can insist on food safety laws and regulations, certify that kitchen managers thoroughly train food service workers in food safety practices, establish work policies that require workers to stay home when ill with gastrointestinal symptoms and for at least 48 hours after their symptoms resolve.
As for the food workers, it should be a standard and almost reflex practice to wash hands often with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds, use utensils and disposable gloves when touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands, clean and sanitize kitchen surfaces using sanitizers approved by the EPA for use against norovirus, washing all produce, and never serving undercooked (below 140 degrees Fahrenheit) shellfish.
Norovirus is highly contagious. It only takes an extremely small amount to become sick. In fact, the amount of virus particles on the head of a pin would be enough to sicken about 1,000 people. To help prevent the spread of this potent virus, you can:
Companies or individuals involved in the producing, packaging, storing, distributing, preparing or selling of unsafe food products that are contaminated with norovirus can be held responsible for the damage they cause. An experienced food safety lawyer can help you file a norovirus lawsuit to recover compensation and hold those parties accountable.
If you have suffered considerable losses as a result of a norovirus infection, obtaining compensation can be a lengthy and complex process. In most cases, you are dealing with two large organizations: a food company, and their insurance carrier. Both of which will likely have a team of seasoned defense lawyers ready to reduce their liability. A norovirus lawyer will make sure you are appropriately compensated for your medical expenses, lost wages, and physical and emotional suffering.
To prove liability, an attorney will independently investigate your case, gather evidence and enquire with other customers who may have been affected. Norovirus lawsuits fall under product liability law, and the success of these types of cases typically relies on expert witnesses. For example, infectious disease experts, food safety experts, and medical experts. A norovirus lawyer will have the resources to hire the necessary medical and scientific experts to provide concrete evidence that you have or suffered from norovirus, how you contracted the infection, as well as how your health has been impacted and will be in the future.
An attorney will typically be able to resolve your claim out of court, through negotiations. However, if the at-fault parties don’t accept responsibility or don’t agree with the amount of compensation you are owed, your lawyer will begin court proceedings. Even when a trial date is set, your attorney will likely be able to reach a settlement agreement prior to it. The approaching court date puts pressure on the liable parties, who typically do not want to risk destroying their public profile or putting their financial fate into the hands of unpredictable jurors.
Most norovirus lawyers will not ask you to pay any legal fees or out of pocket expenses until you receive compensation for your losses. In the event that your claim is unsuccessful, you will not be asked to pay any money, so the attorney is assuming all of the risk.
In some cases, the costs associated with norovirus lawsuits, for court fees, the investigation, depositions, expert witnesses, documents, etc. can run into the hundreds of thousands. A lawyer working on a contingency fee basis advances all of these expenses for you, and will only recoup them once you receive a settlement or verdict. Contingency fee agreements give norovirus lawyers a percentage between 33 and 40 percent (or one-third) of your award or settlement. The majority of the time, it is 33 percent (or one-third).
If your norovirus infection required you to be hospitalized or your condition lasted for more than a few days, you may have a norovirus claim. It is important to speak to an experienced attorney for guidance.
Food processors, manufacturers, restaurants, and retailers are all required to follow food safety laws, and exercise reasonable care when handling food that is for sale. If their actions were negligent and in effect, broke those rules, you may be able to hold them liable in a norovirus lawsuit. Fortunately, most states have adopted strict product liability laws.
However, the strength of your claim relies on how severe your infection was, if you suffered considerable damages (financial losses such as medical bills, lost income, physical pain, emotional distress, etc.), and if you have evidence that the liable party’s food was contaminated and you consumed it, directly resulting in your norovirus infection.
Other legal theories under which a norovirus lawsuit can be based, are negligence and breach of warranties. Negligence can be used in addition to strict product liability, or on its own if strict liability is not available in the state where you file your claim.
After assessing your case, a norovirus lawyer will know which legal theories to base your claim under, to give you the best chance of recovering the compensation you deserve.
After a norovirus diagnosis, focus on your recovery and when you are able to, begin gathering evidence. If possible, this can include:
If your doctor hasn’t already reported your norovirus diagnosis to the local health department, you may want to call and notify them. This can help in identifying potential outbreaks. At the same time, you can also find out if there have been any other recent reports of norovirus infections.
Next, contact an experienced norovirus lawyer for help obtaining compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and any other damages.
It’s important to note that after eating contaminated food and becoming sick, victims often contact the company or business to complain or report the illness. The company or business may apologize and offer a refund, or something else for free, and in return ask you to sign a waiver. Be careful, as this form may actually be a release of liability, and will therefore, waive your legal right to sue. Always consult with an attorney prior to signing anything.
If you have contracted norovirus from contaminated food, contact us. The food poisoning lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC offer free consultations and can help you explore your legal options for compensation after suffering from foodborne illness.