Even if we have never succumbed to it, we are all familiar with the sickness caused by noroviruses due to high-profile media coverage of outbreaks in various closed communities, such as hospitals and cruise ships. In this article in Microbiology Today, Ian Goodfellow and David Brown ask, how extensive are noroviruses in our food chain and what can be done to prevent outbreaks in future?
In the catering industry, education of food handlers is key. Clear guidelines for good practice in food preparation need to be strictly adhered to and policed. Whilst it is generally accepted that there remains an ongoing risk from oysters, etc, since sewage contamination of estuarine waters is likely to continue and depuration is ineffective for viruses, the development of sensitive screening procedures for identifying contamination has the potential to reduce the risk. Further improvements in decontamination of contaminated food and environmental settings will undoubtedly aid in minimizing the effects of norovirus contamination and outbreaks. Until such times that vaccines and/or antivirals are available, as consumers, good hygiene and common sense are the most effective protection against norovirus infection, i.e. increased hand washing, as well as avoidance of shared food sources/ utensils and pre-prepared food during outbreaks.