Every day, local health departments field calls from customers complaining about having the “24-Hour Flu” or “The Stomach Flu.” In truth, the cause of most of these cases is Norovirus.
The person calling generally blames the last food they ate for making them sick. It usually isn’t the last meal eaten that made them sick, rather it is something they had within the past few days. The average incubation, or the time it takes for symptoms to manifest, is generally 24-72 hours.
Most Norovirus patients have both upper and lower gastrointestinal illness (vomiting and diarrhea) and some experience stomach cramps, chills or fever. The symptoms generally last 1-3 days and many ill persons experience dehydration and body aches after the stomach symptoms stop.
Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted in a variety of ways. Recently, we have had a couple of foodborne outbreaks where asymptomatic carriers were directly involved in spreading the illness. The food worker was shedding the virus, but had no symptoms. This is why frequent, thorough handwashing is so important. Dish washers, bussers, wait staff and food prep employees all “have a hand” in serving safe food.
It is critical that all foodservice employees be trained to have a basic understanding of the causes of foodborne illness, types of communicable disease and their symptoms, and the importance of good personal hygiene in order to effectively prevent the spread of illness.