In this winter, there was a big sports event — the Winter Olympics, which was held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. However, there was an outbreak of the “winter vomiting bug” — norovirus — at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Hundreds of norovirus infection cases have been confirmed. The people affected include at least two athletes.
We should be aware of norovirus, which is not far away from our life. Norovirus affects the intestinal tract, causing gastroenteritis illness. Norovirus gastroenteritis occurs more frequently in winter. This is why the virus is also referred to as the “winter vomiting bug”. The virus is highly contagious that everyone can be infected with it. To protect yourself and your family from this common pathogen, understanding how it spreads and how to prevent it is of great importance.
Norovirus is the most common trigger of acute gastroenteritis, a sudden onset of vomiting, diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Almost a fifth of all cases of acute gastroenteritis is associated with norovirus. Acute gastroenteritis is a common cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, both in children and adults. Thenorovirus illness has no vaccine and no specific treatment, despite its high prevalence and significant health burden.
A virus has either a DNA or an RNA genome. Norovirus has an RNA genome. Many RNA viruses have been found to have high mutation rates, meaning that they are able to mutate rapidly to produce new virus types. This presents a difficult challenge to vaccine development. Research shows that the mutation rate of norovirus is high even compared with other RNA viruses. This may help explain why currently there is still no vaccine against norovirus.
The main transmission route of norovirus is the fecal-oral route. Simply put, people get infected by eating contaminated foods or drinking contaminated drinks. Person-to-person contact can also spread norovirus. These viruses are present in the stool and vomit of infected people. An infected person who has not washed the hands thoroughly after toileting may spread the viruses to others. Norovirus can spread quickly. This is one of the reasons why there was a norovirus outbreak at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
It is terrible for an athlete to have norovirus infection. As mentioned above, no specific medicine is available to treat norovirus illness. The common symptoms of norovirus illness, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain, generally clear up within 1 to 3 days. The time is long enough to affect an athlete’s performance in an upcoming game.
After knowing how norovirus spreads, you may know how to prevent it. Although there is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection, there are things that you can do to reduce the risk, such as washing the hands carefully and frequently, washing fruits and vegetables and cooking food thoroughly, washing clothes thoroughly, and cleaning up the house to make a better indoor environment. In addition, norovirus spreads very quickly in crowded places, such as schools, nursing homes, and cruise ships. If you or your children are in such places, pay more attention to the illness.
Although norovirus illness is usually mild, it sometimes causes severe complications. Norovirus replicates within the small intestine of an infected person. Some studies suggest that norovirus causes apoptosis of enterocytes. Norovirus disease usually begins 12-48 hours after exposure, and characteristic symptoms include nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In most patients, the symptoms resolve within 24-72 hours without complications. In others, however, the disease may result in dehydration, malnutrition, constipation, dyspepsia, and reflux. According to estimates, norovirus is responsible for 200,000 deaths worldwide each year.
It’s unfortunate that no vaccine is available for such a common and potentially life-threatening virus. Scientists have been working hard to design and develop a vaccine against norovirus. Before the availability of a norovirus vaccine, we should be careful not to get infected by it. There are many different strains of norovirus. Therefore, a person who has contracted norovirus can get it again throughout his lifetime.
If you experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, you’d better go to the hospital for a check-up. There are several methods to diagnose norovirus illness. The routine one is the PCR assay, which detects viral RNA in stool, vomitus, or environmental specimens. The ELISA test based on anti-viral antibodies (monoclonal antibodies or polyclonal antibodies ) can detect multiple strains of norovirus.
Norovirus illness has no specific drug treatment. One goal of treatment is to prevent complications such as dehydration. For patients who experience dehydration, drinking sufficient fluids is very important. This helps replace fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea and correct electrolyte disturbances. For those who exhibit severe dehydration, administration of intravenous fluids may be required. Besides, doctors may prescribe antiemetics and antidiarrheals to help reduce symptoms.
In summary, norovirus illness is more common in winter and has no vaccine and no specific medicine. Remember that everyone can be affected by it. Good health habits help reduce your risk of getting infected with this virus. Different methods can be used to determine whether a person is infected or not. If the disease is diagnosed, supportive care and certain drugs may be used to help control symptoms and prevent complications. Norovirus illness is usually self-limiting. But it does not mean that it never causes severe problems.
Caroline Liu is a writer and works at Cusabio, a biotech company serving the life sciences research. She shares timely articles on how to protect oneself from common pathogens.