Public health researchers in Oregon identified a reusable grocery bag as the source of a 2010 norovirus outbreak that sickened seven children (girls age 13-14) and adults. The group were an Oregon soccer club who attended a tournament in Washington state.
The grocery bag contained cookies, potato chips and fresh grapes, and was kept in the bathroom of a hotel room where one of the girls who got sick stayed with an adult chaperone. ABC News reports the person who put the bag in the bathroom was not aware that someone in the room was ill.
“This is the first published report of norovirus infection without person-to-person transfer,” said Kimberly Repp, a case study co-author and now an epidemiologist with Oregon’s Washington County Health & Human Services. “Two groups of people were infected by transportation of an inanimate object.”
Norovirus can be transmitted by tiny particles of vomit and feces floating in the air, meaning the virus can easily contaminate surfaces and objects. ABC News report the sick child, who was suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, did not need to touch the bag or its contents. Simply using the bathroom with the bag sitting there throughout the night was enough to transmit the virus.
The next day, the bag ended up in another hotel room and the contents were handled and eaten by other members of the group. After that, the others eventually became ill.
“When people are sick in a bathroom, we all need to think beyond cleaning the toilet,” Repp said. “We need to clean all the surfaces where the virus may have landed and everything else in the bathroom.”
One person who fell ill sought medical attention, but no one was hospitalized. Five other people in team members’ homes contracted the virus after the girls got home and got sick. The virus can be shed in stool for up to two weeks after a person becomes ill.
If anyone gets the virus, containing it as much as possible is essential to preventing its spread.“When possible, quarantine or isolate sick people to a single bathroom,” Repp said.
The risk of contracting an illness from any particular reusable bag is low, Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville., told MSNBC News. Schaffner did point-out, however, that the Oregon case follows a 2010 paper by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University that found large numbers of bacteria in reusable grocery bags, including 12 percent that were contaminated with E. coli.
When scientists in that study stored the bags in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria jumped 10-fold.
Some critics dismissed that study, which was funded in part by the American Chemistry Council, which supports the makers of some disposable plastic bags.
But few have debated the study’s conclusion, which found that washing the reusable shopping bags regularly decreased contamination by 99.9 percent
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