Norovirus Spread to Soccer Team Traced to Grocery Bag

A nasty stomach bug likely spread to a girls’ soccer team from a reusable shopping bag that was kept in a hotel washroom, say U.S. disease detectives who tracked down the source of the outbreak.

Noroviruses are a leading cause of gastroenteritis worldwide. The highly contagious viral infection usually lasts 24 to 48 hours with symptoms that include vomiting and diarrhea.

Norovirus has been transmitted with multiple sources on successive voyages of cruise ship.

Norovirus has been transmitted with multiple sources on successive voyages of cruise ship. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

The virus spreads quickly, evolves constantly and evades the immune system while allowing most victims to recover to keep spreading.

Researchers said the virus aerosolized in the bathroom used by an infected girl settled onto a grocery bag and its contents, serving as the source of illness for seven team members aged 13 to 14 at a 2010 soccer tournament in King County, Wash.

“Illness was associated with touching a reusable grocery bag or consuming its packaged food contents,” Kimberly Repp of Oregon Health and Sciences University, and William Keene of the state’s public health division concluded in Wednesday’s online issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“When feasible, we recommend dedicated bathrooms for sick persons and informing cleaning staff (professional or otherwise) about the need for adequate environmental sanitation of surfaces and fomites to prevent spread.”

Fomites are objects other than food that can convey infection.

In the soccer team outbreak, none of the team mates or chaperones ever touched the first girl who fell ill.

She left to return home before the lunch items in the bag were consumed, the researchers said.

They were unable to distinguish between handling of the food packaging compared with eating the foods, but it’s unlikely the bag would be implicated by chance alone, a journal editorial accompanying the study noted.

“The chain of events in this outbreak demonstrates how this tenacious virus finds a way to move from host to host, even when those hosts have no direct contact with one another,” said Dr. Aron Hill of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The investigation “provides a fascinating example of how a unique exposure and transmission scenario can result in a norovirus outbreak.”

The editorial concluded that a vaccine may one day help but the current pillars of norovirus — hand hygiene, disinfection and isolation of infected individuals — will continue to be needed to curtail the spread of the pathogens.

The study was funded by the CDC.

courtesy CBC News

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