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Explained: 13 infected with Norovirus in Kerala, what is this disease?

Norovirus outbreak in Kerala: At least 13 people have been found infected with Norovirus in Kerala's Wayanad district. What is this disease? What are its symptoms and treatment? How can it be prevented?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
November 13, 2021 11:57:14 am
Electron microscopic image of norovirus virions (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

At least 13 people have been found infected with Norovirus in Kerala’s Wayanad district, according to a report in news agency PTI. The patients, students of a veterinary college in Pookode near Vythiri, tested positive for the infection two weeks ago.

The state government has asked people to remain vigilant, and stepped up measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

So, what is Norovirus?

Norovirus, which infects people across age groups, is a bug similar to the diarrhoea-inducing rotavirus. Disease outbreaks typically occur aboard cruise ships, in nursing homes, dormitories, and other closed spaces.

What are the symptoms of Norovirus?

The initial symptoms of Norovirus are vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which show up one or two days after exposure to the virus. Patients also feel nauseous, and suffer from abdominal pain, fever, headaches and bodyaches. In extreme cases, loss of fluids could lead to dehydration.

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What is the treatment 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, and most individuals who are not very young, very old, or malnourished can ride it out with sufficient rest and hydration.

How do you get Norovirus?

Norovirus is highly contagious, and can be transmitted through contaminated food, water, and surfaces. The primary route is oral-faecal. One may get infected multiple times as the virus has different strains. Norovirus is resistant to many disinfectants and heat up to 60°C. Therefore, merely steaming food or chlorinating water does not kill the virus. The virus can also survive many common hand sanitisers.

How common is Norovirus infection?

It is the most common pathogen implicated in outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease (inflammation of the stomach and intestines), according to the World Health Organization.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one out of every five cases of acute gastroenteritis worldwide is caused by Norovirus. There are 685 million cases annually, of which 200 million are detected among children younger than five years. Nearly 50,000 children die every year due to diarrhoea caused by the virus.

How can Norovirus be prevented and treated?

The basic precaution is also the most obvious — repeatedly washing hands with soap after using the lavatory or changing diapers. It is important to wash hands scrupulously before eating or preparing food. During outbreaks, surfaces must disinfected with a solution of hypochlorite at 5,000 parts per million. Diagnosis is done by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. No vaccines are available for the disease. It is important to maintain hydration in the acute phase. In extreme cases, patients have to be administered rehydration fluids intravenously.

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