Two Kerala students infected with norovirus: What’s the stomach bug and how can it be prevented?


At least two primary school students in Kerala were found infected with norovirus.

The infection which causes vomiting, diarrhoea and fever, was diagnosed after samples were tested at a government analytical lab. It is believed that the students got food poising from mid-day meal schemes.

In November last year, over a dozen students of a veterinary college in Wayanad had been infected with the virus.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus, sometimes referred to as the winter vomiting bug, is a contagious virus.

According to America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the country’s public health agency, it is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or touching a contaminated surface and putting unwashed hands in the mouth.

The Mayo Clinic states that norovirus infection occurs most frequently in closed and crowded environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, child care centres, schools, and cruise ships.

Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis, annually causing an estimated 685 million cases. About 200 million cases are seen among children under five years old, leading to an estimated 50,000 child deaths every year, mostly in developing countries, according to the CDC.

The infection occurs mosty  in closed and crowded environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, child care centres, and schools. Image Courtesy: CDC

What are the symptoms of norovirus?

The most common symptoms of norovirus infection are diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Other symptoms include fever, headache and body ache. In extreme cases, loss of fluids could lead to dehydration.

Typically, signs and symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure to norovirus and last from one to three days.

How to prevent norovirus?

According to medical experts, norovirus is highly contagious and anyone can become infected more than once.

Experts recommend one should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. You can use hand sanitisers in addition to hand washing, but you should not use hand sanitiser as a substitute for washing your hands with warm water and soap, says CDC.

People should avoid contaminated food and water, including food that could have been prepared by someone who was sick. Furthermore, rinse fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly.

The CDC says that clothes and linens that may be contaminated because of vomit or faeces should be washed thoroughly with detergent and hot water.

What is the treatment for norovirus?

No vaccines are available for norovirus.

The disease is self-limiting. The infection, even though it takes a lot out of the patient, normally lasts only two or three days. Most individuals who are not very young, very old, or malnourished can ride it out with sufficient rest and hydration, according to a report in The Indian Express.

In extreme cases, patients have to be administered rehydration fluids intravenously.

Have there been outbreaks in other nations?

Yes.

In July 2021, England had reported a norovirus outbreak with more than 154 cases. Public Health England had said that the outbreak showed a three-fold increase in cases over the same time period during the previous five years.

China too suffered an outbreak in 2018, which saw over 157 people infected. Studies had shown that eating take-out food had caused the infections, leading the Asian giant to restrict off-campus dining and implementation of disinfection and case isolation measures.

In 2019, a handful of passengers of 10 European cruises had also come down with the infection. It was later found that the passengers on board the ship had all consumed a smoothie made from frozen fruits and berries, which was found to be the culprit of the whole incident.

Handwashing can help in preventing the spread of the virus. AFP

What is Kerala doing to prevent an outbreak?

Health ministry officials in the state have sent more samples for testing.

Education Minister V Sivankutty has convened a meeting of officials to discuss what steps should be taken to make mid-day meals safe.

Veena George, the state’s health minister, warned that the sickness is very contagious and advised residents to practise good hygiene.

Assuring that the condition of the two students is stable, she said, “There is no need to be concerned at the moment but everyone should remain careful and maintain cleanliness.”

The state health department encouraged people to take precautions such as constantly washing their hands with soap after using the restroom.

With inputs from agencies

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