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Norovirus, sometimes known as winter vomiting bug in the UK, is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans. It affects people of all ages. The virus is transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and viaaerosolization of vomited virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces. The virus affects around 267 million people and causes over 200,000 deaths each year; these deaths are usually in less developed countries and in the very young, elderly and immunosuppressed.
Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. A person usually develops symptoms of gastroenteritis 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headaches, and low-grade fevers may occur. The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. Although having norovirus can be unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous and most who contract it make a full recovery within two to three days. Norovirus is rapidly inactivated by either sufficient heating or by chlorine-based disinfectants andpolyquaternary amines, but the virus is less susceptible to alcohols and detergents.
After infection, immunity to norovirus is usually incomplete and temporary, with one publication drawing the conclusion that protective immunity to the same strain of norovirus lasts for six months, but that all such immunity is gone after two years. Outbreaks of norovirus infection often occur in closed or semiclosed communities, such as long-term care facilities, overnight camps, hospitals, schools, prisons, clubs, dormitories, and cruise ships, where the infection spreads very rapidly either by person-to-person transmission or through contaminated food. Many norovirus outbreaks have been traced to food that was handled by one infected person.
The genus name Norovirus is derived from Norwalk virus, the only species of the genus. The species causes approximately 90% ofepidemic nonbacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world, and may be responsible for 50% of all foodborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis in the United States