doubled up with nausea, diarrhea, a fever, and unable to keep anything down. Youre laid up for 24 to 72 hours. The result, besides extreme discomfort, is dehydration that can be life threatening. We learned it was the Norovirus.
We just experienced an epidemic of that disease at the retirement building where I winter in Portland, Oregon. Of 240 residents, 80 were stricken. Of 115 staff members, 46 were put out of action. Five of our elderly residents were put in the hospital because of dehydration.Fortunately no one died.
We were lucky. Across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, three
elderly residents did die. A number of ambulance and health care personnel promptly caught the disease. Usually the Norovirus is not fatal except for the already infirm elderly and very young children. But it is so virulent, its spread is difficult to contain.
Originally called the Norwalk virus because it broke out in an elementary
school in Ohio, the Norovirus is called by Dr. David Matson of Eastern Virginia Medical School an industrial strength protein. While the more common diarrhea rotavirus that attacks children needs 10,000 particles for a kid to catch it, the norovirus needs only 10.
Unlike influenza, polio, and rhinoviruses, the Norovirus has no fatty lipid element that would make it easier to destroy. There is no treatment and no cure. One simply tries to hold out until it passes and not get dangerously dehydrated Thats difficult when you cant eat or drink anything and keep it down.
When the virus struck our retirement community the chef had to shut down
the salad bar and cancel all community dinners and parties involving food. People were forbidden to visit the residents health center. Everyone was cautioned to wash their hands frequently. We lived in a state of siege for several weeks while the illness ran its course.
The illness caused local schools to close while the staff tried to disinfect everything with bleach water. The virus can hang around on hard surfaces for weeks and is more persistent in the environment than AIDS. People who have had it can continue to slough off bits of the dangerous protein
for days after the end of symptoms. It can even hang around in carpets and be stirred
up by simply walking across the room.
No wonder the Norovirus does well in dense populations like schools, cruise ships, and retirement buildings.
Its persistence is amazing. It was reported that in 1998 a Slovenian raspberry grower irrigated his crop with contaminated water. The virus settled on the berries and survived their being turned into juice that was exported to 13 countries. When the disease struck a contingent of British troops in Afghanistan it was suspected as being a biological warfare agent. As such, it could be an excellent weapon: persistent, debilitating, and not fatal. You cant fight if you are sick.
What should do if you come down with the Norovirus? Stay in bed, avoid contact with other people. Wash your hands frequently, and try to keep up your liquid intake. Even after your symptoms have disappeared, remember that you can still pass on the contagion. The kicker is that having had it once you do not acquire an immunity. You can catch it again, and your resistance is lower next time.
It seems that as quickly as we find new medicines, diseases evolve that are resistant or immune. Norovirus is usually not fatal. Bird flu is and about 50% who catch it die. If the protein for the norovirus somehow hooked up with the bird flu and added its contagion to the mortality of the bird disease the human race would be in dire danger. I think Ill skip the cruise.
Harley L. Sachs, visit the web site
and listen to two stories broadcast on the BBC (broadband high speed recommended!) and read extensive reviews.