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Noroviruses -- they're not just for cruise ships anymore

February 26, 2010 |  6:22 pm

GlassesTrue, the most highly publicized outbreaks of norovirus do seem to occur on cruise ships, and only in part because the idea of fun-loving tourists (i.e. vacationers) getting sick elicits a perverse pleasure in everyone else (i.e. non-vacationers). But lack of a desire to chug through pristine ocean waters while eating copious amounts of food won't protect you from these truly unpleasant, gastroenteritis-causing germs.

And to appreciate how truly unpleasant, you need to be clear on the meaning of gastroenteritis. It doesn't mean an occasional twinge in the abdominal area; it means stomach flu. (More on that from MedicineNet.)

Noroviruses, or Norwalk-like illnesses, have an inherent appreciation for close quarters, especially those where people -- and their food and drink -- can easily come in contact with "tiny droplets." (More on this later.) Hence vicious outbreaks at USC, San Quentin and elsewhere in recent years. The aforementioned prison and a Massachusetts college even closed for a few days.

Here's why we bring this up now: Cruise ship back at South Carolina port after virus outbreak sickened more than 400 on board

In case you're one of those non-vacationers smugly thinking you've nothing to worry about, we offer the CDC view. It links to a more practically helpful q and a.

On the downside:

"Noroviruses are very contagious and can spread easily from person to person."

(And if you're thinking that once you've had such an illness, you'll be immune -- think again.)

On the plus side:

"People may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most people get better within 1 or 2 days, and they have no long-term health effects related to their illness."

Something to keep you going as you're curled up on the cold tile.

The ever-helpful L.A. Times Travel section offered up these traveling tips during the last flurry of cruise-ship outbreaks.

As for the Health section, we offer up this advice: Should you come down with such a virus and feel the need to prepare food for others, resist this urge. Bad things happen.

"Food and drinks can very easily become contaminated with norovirus because the virus is so small and because it probably takes fewer than 100 norovirus particles to make a person sick. Food can be contaminated either by direct contact with contaminated hands or work surfaces that are contaminated with stool or vomit, or by tiny droplets from nearby vomit that can travel through air to land on food. Although the virus cannot multiply outside of human bodies, once on food or in water, it can cause illness."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: What's really in, or on, that glass? If there's an outbreak of norovirus, you may find out the hard way.

Photo c

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times