By Gary Thomas
Scientists from Oregon Health and Sciences University and Oregon Public Health Division, Portland, have shown that even inanimate objects can transmit norovirus infection.
Norovirus is a common cause of gastroenteritis in the US and throughout the world. Even low concentration of the virus is highly contagious. The mode of transmission is through direct contact of vomit and stool or indirect contact of surfaces contaminated with virus. However, during October 2010, Norovirus gastroenteritis occurred in a group of people without direct physical contact of pathogen and it became a challenge to the scientists to determine the cause and prevent the infection.
William E. Keene, PhD, MPH, from Oregon Public Health Division, Portland and Kimberly K. Repp, PhD, MPH from Oregon Health and Sciences University performed the study. The scientists examined a gastroenteritis outbreak that occurred among a group of 17 Oregon teen age girls and four adult chaperones, who accompanied them for a soccer tournament held in Washington state. Previously, one girl alone had the infection before traveling to the tournament. However, the girls traveled together in private vehicles, stayed together in hotel rooms and ate in local restaurants and had no direct contact with the infected girl. After the symptoms started appearing, immediately the infected girl left the room and stayed alone with a chaperone. Subsequently, she had symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting and used the chaperone’s bathroom. After many days, eight girls were infected with the virus.
It was investigated that the girls ate snacks from a reusable bag stored in the chaperone’s bathroom! Infact, the aerosols of the virus settled on the grocery bag and its contents. The viruses were detected on the reusable shopping bag after two weeks of the trip.
This study has validated that norovirus is able to contaminate inanimate surfaces and cause outbreaks in nursing homes, cruise ships and other crowded places.
The study is published online in www.oxfordjournals.org and also in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.