UK – The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has reported a dramatic rise in confirmed norovirus cases, registering a 66 percent rise higher than the seasonal norm. 

The total number of lab reports for weeks 3 and 4 of the 2022–2023 norovirus season was 527, which is more than the 318 reports seen on average during the previous five seasons for the same two-week period.

People 65 and older are experiencing the largest increase in lab-confirmed norovirus cases. UKHSA noted that such high levels in this age range had not been observed in over ten years.

Hospitals, schools, and nursing homes have all seen an upsurge in norovirus outbreaks, with nursing facilities reporting the majority of cases.

In hospitals, 78 outbreaks were lab-verified as norovirus up until week 4 of the 2022–2023 season.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2021 ordered Dorset Oyster, the shellfish provider of choice for top restaurants and chefs in the Kingdom, to recall their products due to norovirus concerns.

In the U.S, raw oysters from Texas were responsible for 211 norovirus infections in 2022.

A study conducted by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on mitigating the risk of contracting norovirus from the consumption of foods prepared in food service establishments, revealed that full compliance with FDA Food Code recommendations for hand hygiene and the exclusion of ill food employees from the workplace have the largest impact in containing the infection.

How to lower the likelihood of becoming ill

UKHSA is informing individuals of steps they can take to lower their risk of contracting the norovirus.

Contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces makes the virus extremely contagious and rapidly transmitted.

To this end, UKHSA notes that maintaining proper hand hygiene is among the best strategies to stop the spread.

“Regular handwashing is really important to help stop the spread of this bug, but remember, alcohol gels do not kill off norovirus so soap and warm water are best,” said Lesley Larkin, Surveillance Lead for the Gastrointestinal Infections and Food Safety (One Health) Division at UKHSA.

As norovirus can spread through food when it is handled by symptomatic people or infected individuals, it is best to refrain from cooking and preparing meals for others until 48 hours after symptoms have subsided.

“Please stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms and do not return to work, particularly if you work with vulnerable people or food, or send sick children to school or nursery until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared. If you have a loved one in a care home or hospital, please avoid visiting until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared,” said Lesley.

Severe diarrhea and vomiting are common norovirus symptoms, and they often start within 48 hours of viral contact.

The majority of people will recover completely in two to three days, but it’s crucial to drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration, especially for the very young, old, or persons with compromised immune systems who are more vulnerable.

FSA estimates that norovirus-related foodborne illness cases accounted for the highest social burden in 2018 and the most illnesses, with an estimated 383,000 cases and a cost to society of £1.68 billion (U.S$2 billion).

Norovirus can persist in food and the environment for a very long time and is frequently able to endure harsher circumstances than bacteria, including subzero temperatures.

Food handlers, contaminated oysters, and fresh vegetables including berries, salads, and other meals have all been responsible for outbreaks, reports Food Safety News.

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