What causes norovirus outbreaks? US 2001-2008

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and a couple of universities write in an upcoming issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases that:

Noroviruses are the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States. To better guide interventions, we analyzed 2,922 foodborne disease outbreaks for which norovirus was the suspected or confirmed cause, which had been reported to the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during 2001–2008. On average, 365 foodborne norovirus outbreaks were reported annually, resulting in an estimated 10,324 illnesses, 1,247 health care provider visits, 156 hospitalizations, and 1 death. In 364 outbreaks attributed to a single commodity, leafy vegetables (33%), fruits/nuts (16%), and mollusks (13%) were implicated most commonly. Infected food handlers were the source of 53% of outbreaks and may have contributed to 82% of outbreaks. Most foods were likely contaminated during preparation and service, except for mollusks, and occasionally, produce was contaminated during production and processing. Interventions to reduce the frequency of foodborne norovirus outbreaks should focus on food workers and production of produce and shellfish.