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09-05-2012 | Article

Norovirus lurks on reusable grocery bag

MedWire News: US researchers have confirmed the potential for norovirus to be spread by the handling of inanimate objects such as shopping bags through aerosol contamination.

The infectious disease specialists traced an October 2010 outbreak of norovirus in Oregon to a reusable grocery bag stored in a Seattle-area hotel bathroom that an infected teenage girl had used while symptomatic.

Kimberly Repp (Oregon Health and Sciences University, Portland) and William Keene (Oregon Public Health Division, Portland) investigated a norovirus outbreak in eight of 17 girls, aged 13 and 14 years.

The children had traveled with four adult chaperones in private cars from Oregon to a soccer tournament in Kings County, Washington. The girls shared hotel rooms and ate in local restaurants. There were no reported outbreaks among patrons of the restaurants where the girls ate or other teams who participated in the tournament.

Through telephone or in-person interviews, the investigators determined that when the index patient started developing symptoms, she was moved from her shared room into the hotel room of a chaperone and had no further direct contact with her teammates while displaying symptoms.

However, the investigators were able to trace the source of the infection to a bag of snacks stored in a woven polypropylene plastic bag that had been stored in the bathroom where the index patient had vomited and had diarrheal bowel movements.

The authors found that stool specimens from infected girls, and from two of 10 swabs taken from the grocery bag 2 weeks after the meal believed to precipitate the outbreak, tested positive for norovirus genotype GII.2.

"The data indicate that virus aerosolized within the hotel bathroom settled upon the grocery bag and its contents, and it was touching the bag and consumption of its contents that led to the outbreak," the authors wrote.

Noting that touching the bag could not be analyzed separately from consumption of food items from within the bag, they comment that the nature of the contaminated foods - chips, grapes and cookies - helped spread the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diarrhea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of norovirus infections, starting within 24-48 hours of contact with infected individuals Patients may also experience nausea, stomach cramps, fever, chills, aches, and fatigue.

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By Neil Osterweil