New Norovirus Linked to New Orleans Oyster Beds

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, April 18, 2010 (ENS) – A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a new strain of norovirus, which has sickened dozens of people and forced the closure of several oyster harvest areas in the Louisiana area.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said in a statement Friday that “because the strain is new, few people are immune to it causing more outbreaks.”

“People should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet, before consuming food, and before preparing food,” said State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. “If everybody did this, we could prevent a majority of the illness caused by these viruses.”

Several oyster beds in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes were closed earlier this month after tests linked the norovirus outbreak to those beds. They were reopened on Thursday and Fridays, after tests determined them to be safe for harvesting oysters.

Oysters in a New Orleans restaurant (Photo by M.E. Hughes)

Norovirus outbreaks are common, and generally those people who are infected recover within one to two days.

Much like influenza, norovirus mutates easily, and new strains such as this are common.

The CDC’s name for the new strain, GII.4 New Orleans, includes New Orleans in the name because the first confirmed samples of the virus came from that city.

People can become infected by eating and drinking food contaminated by norovirus, touching objects infected and then touching their mouths, and direct contact with someone infected with norovirus.

Norovirus symptoms usually begin to show 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Sometimes people have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness.

Louisiana health officials advise that people infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms and for at least two to three days after they recover from their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.

Persons working in day care centers or nursing homes should pay special attention to children or residents who have norovirus symptoms, Louisiana health officials warn, saying, “This virus is very contagious and can spread rapidly throughout such environments.”

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