In the past week, over 400 students and teachers in the Boston area have contracted norovirus, which causes nausea, vomitting and diarrhea:
“In close settings like a school or a nursing home or a family, the failure to adequately follow good hygiene will manifest itself with spread of this type of disease,” said Dr. Bela Matyas of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
At Simmons, the outbreak traveled swiftly, although it was not concentrated in any single location, said Dr. Kay Petersen , medical director of the college’s health center. To stem the spread, e-mails were sent to students and staff urging them to wash their hands and to stay home if they developed symptoms.
Hand washing is critical with norovirus: The germ is carried in stool, and it takes only a small amount of the virus to spark a cluster of illness.
The college also sanitized dining halls and bathrooms in an attempt to eliminate any trace of the virus.
“We at one point designated one bathroom in the health service for people who were sick and the other bathroom for people who weren’t sick, to minimize any exposure,” said Petersen, who added that in her nearly two decades at Simmons she has never witnessed so many students stricken at one time with a stomach bug.
Tara has discussed norovirus outbreaks before, so I’ll leave that bit up to her. On this blog, I regularly encourage handwashing and other public hygiene measures because these measures decrease the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. I think this norovirus outbreak completely supports that argument.
But wait Mad Biologist, norovirus is a virus. How does reducing viral infections reduce antibiotic use? Imagine if this virus didn’t cause stomach illness, but respiratory problems, such as bronchitis. Many of these patients would go to the doctor, where their viral illness would be misdiagnosed as a bacterial illness, and they would be prescribed antibiotics when they don’t need them. All of the bacteria living in and on that person would be exposed to the antibiotic, and this would select antibiotic resistant bacteria.
So, please, wash your hands.
Update: It sounds like there has been another norovirus outbreak at an Olive Garden in Indianapolis. A worker who had flu-like symptoms similar to those patrons complained of is being examined as the source.