Norovirus outbreak in Iowa

Ames, Iowa may not exactly be thought of as a major tourist destination, or sporting venue. Last week, however, it was both, as the host of the first ever Special Olympics USA National Games, with Ames serving as an "olympic village." Most of it went off rather smoothly, but it also became newsworthy for another reason:

Illness identified at Special Olympics

Several people affiliated with Special Olympics teams who fell ill this week have tested positive for norovirus, a common cause of what is known as the stomach flu, state health officials announced Saturday.

Overall, 52 people exhibiting flu-like symptoms have been treated at field centers around the ISU campus or at Mary Greeley Medical Center since July 4. Of those, 11 were reported to have been treated for dehydration, hospital officials said.

This is the same type of virus I blogged about previously when it caused an outbreak at a Michigan sub shop:

It's this family of viruses that has been responsible for many outbreaks of diarrheal illness on cruise ships and other public places. They're spread in a fecal-oral manner: stool particles contaminate unwashed or poorly washed hands, get into your food, and into your intestine, starting the process all over. Vomit from infected indiviuals can also contain contagious particles, and infected indiviuals can continue to shed virus up to 3 weeks after symptoms subside. Careful handwashing or other practices (such as wearing gloves when preparing food) can minimize spread, but unless the restaurant (or entire cruise ship) is very carefully cleaned to remove environmental virus, everything can be easily re-contaminated by residual virus.

Norovirus infrequently causes deaths, but outbreaks of the virus are difficult to contain for reasons such as those I mention above. The source of the outbreak in Ames hasn't yet been determined.

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Slightly off topic question: Is "norovirus" the same as "norwalk virus", named after an outbreak of it in Norwalk Ohio? If so, why did they change the name? How else am I going to remember a suburb of Cleveland?

By spudbeach (not verified) on 10 Jul 2006 #permalink

They aren't quite the same; Norwalk virus is a member of the noroviruses, as I understand it, like a species within a genus. They were referred to as either Norwalk or "Norwalk-like" viruses previously, and now have been grouped together within the noroviruses. (Virologists, please correct me if I'm wrong, as taxonomy and naming of these things has always been one of my least favorite areas). More information on them here.

There was just a major norovirus outbreak in Clark County, Washington, with a little spill over into Portland, Oregon (across the Columbia River from Vancouver, WA. Mostly it was associated with schools, the VA medical center (extended care unit) battled it for almost a month. Very easily spread in any congregate housing situation. Doesn't last long, but you are miserable while it lasts, and yes, with vulnerable populations (frail old, very young, sick) it can kill -- at least one death is related to the outbreak.