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Norwalk virusNorwalk Virus & Your Family

The Norwalk virus was discovered and named after a gastrointestinal illness outbreak in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1972. Since the discovery of Norwalk, other, similar viruses have been discovered and identified as Norwalk-like viruses. Like all other viruses, (and unlike bacteria), Norwalk is extremely small and invades the cells of the human body to replicate itself using the cell's own material.

The Norwalk virus and Norwalk-like viruses can cause a condition called viral gastroenteritis. It is most likely that you or someone in your family has had viral gastroenteritis at some point. Norwalk virus symptoms include diarrhea, and can include nausea and vomiting.

The common cold is the only illness more common than viral gastroenteritis, and it is estimated that the Norwalk virus causes one-third of all of those cases. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that as many as 23 million people in the U.S. have a viral gastroenteritis illness each year.

Although the human intestine is the only known natural environment of the Norwalk virus, it can flourish nearly anywhere. Hospitals and nursing homes are among the most common places for Norwalk infection due to person-to-person contact with infected people.

Norwalk is transmitted from one person to another via unwashed hands, projectile vomiting or by other means. In many cases, people get the virus by swallowing water or food that has become contaminated with stool from someone who is infected. The food most commonly associated with Norwalk virus outbreaks is shellfish. Clams, oysters and other shellfish can become contaminated from raw sewage dumped by boaters. Water, ice, produce and ready-to-eat foods are also common sources of Norwalk infection.

In some very rare cases viral gastroenteritis caused by Norwalk can become serious enough to require hospitalization. If you or your family member has a severe case of this illness, you may want to contact your physician.


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