AGENCY FOR TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND DISEASE REGISTRY

Norovirus

Norovirus, sometimes referred to as the winter vomiting bug, is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Infection is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Blood is not usually present. Fever or headaches may also occur. This usually develops 12 to 48 hours after being exposed. Recovery typically occurs within 1 to 3 days. Complications may include dehydration.

Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. A person usually develops symptoms of gastroenteritis 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headaches, and low-grade fevers may occur. The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. Although having norovirus can be unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous and most who contract it make a full recovery within two to three days.

Vomiting, in particular, transmits infection effectively, and appears to allow airborne transmission. In one incident, a person who vomited spread infection across a restaurant, suggesting that many unexplained cases of food poisoning may have their source in vomit. In December 1998, 126 people were dining at six tables; one woman vomited onto the floor. Staff quickly cleaned up, and people continued eating. Three days later others started falling ill; 52 people reported a range of symptoms, from fever and nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. The cause was not immediately identified. Researchers plotted the seating arrangement: more than 90% of the people at the same table as the sick woman later reported becoming ill. There was a direct correlation between the risk of infection of people at other tables and how close they were to the sick woman. More than 70% of the diners at an adjacent table fell ill; at a table on the other side of the restaurant, the infection rate was still 25%. The outbreak was attributed to a Norwalk-like virus (norovirus). Other cases of transmission by vomit were later identified.

A 2010 study suggested a specific genetic version of norovirus (which would not be distinguishable from other types of the virus using standard viral antibody tests) interacts with a specific mutation in the ATG16L1 gene to help trigger symptomatic Crohn's disease in mice that have been subjected to a chemical that causes intestinal injury similar to the process in humans. (There are other similar ways for such diseases to happen like this, and this study in itself does not prove norovirus causes Crohn's in humans).

When a person becomes infected with norovirus, the virus is replicated within the small intestine. After approximately one to two days, norovirus infection symptoms can appear. The principal symptom is acute gastroenteritis that develops between 12 and 48 hours after exposure, and lasts for 2472 hours. The disease is usually self-limiting, and characterized by nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, coughs, and low-grade fever may occur.

There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is not a bacterial infection. Treatments aim to avoid complications by measures such as the management of dehydration caused by fluid loss in vomiting and diarrhea, and to mitigate symptoms using antiemetics and antidiarrheals.

Homozygous carriers of any nonsense mutation in the FUT2 gene are called non-secretors, as no ABH-antigen is produced. Approximately 20% of Caucasians are non-secretors due to G428A and C571T nonsense mutations in FUT2 and therefore have strong although not absolute protection from the norovirus GII.4. Non-secretors can still produce ABH antigens in erythrocytes, as the precursor is formed by FUT1. Some norovirus genotypes (GI.3) can infect non-secretors.