Norovirus Gastroenteritis

29 July 2004

From KSL-TV – Salt Lake City, UT, USA:

“More than 130 people have contracted the Norovirus, a stomach illness, at Yellowstone National Park this summer. The Park’s concession workers and housekeepers were hit the hardest.

“Norovirus is the same illness that sickened hundreds of cruise ship passengers earlier this year.”

Contrary to what the article reports, Norovirus is not an illness; it is a virus. The illness it causes, the ‘stomach illness’ reported above, is known as gastroenteritis – inflammation of the lining membrane of the stomach and the intestines. Therefore the correct way to have written the first sentence of the news report above would be “More than 130 people at Yellowstone National Park have contracted a stomach illness caused by Norovirus…”

The lesson here is that it is always important to distinguish the virus from the disease, something that journalists often have a problem with.

Noroviruses are important human pathogens; they cause over 90% of all cases of nonbacterial gastroenteritis. Outbreaks of Norovirus gastroenteritis often occur on cruise ships or in resort settings. The infection is usually acquired by ingesting contaminated food. Typically, the food is contaminated by a worker who is infected with Norovirus and either has no symptoms or has already recovered and is still shedding virus. If the food handler does not properly wash after using the bathroom, his/her hands may be contaminated with fecal matter which contains many virus particles.