Tuesday 28 June 2022
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Norovirus: Kerala braves another pathogen

The initial symptoms of the disease caused by norovirus are vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which show up one or two days after exposure to the virus

Being home to thousands of workers overseas, Kerala is often in news for a viral disease outbreak, the latest of which is caused by the hitherto unheard of norovirus. Twelve students from a school and an Anganwadi centre in Kerala have been admitted to a hospital due to suspected food poisoning. Eight students of a government upper primary school in Alappuzha district and four students of an Anganwadi at Kottarakkara in Kollam district were admitted to nearby government hospitals.

Norovirus, which infects people across age groups, is a bug similar to the diarrhoea-inducing rotavirus. Disease outbreaks typically occur aboard cruise ships, in nursing homes, dormitories, and other closed spaces.

Two lower primary school students in Thiruvananthapuram were found infected with norovirus, which has vomiting, diarrhoea and fever-like symptoms. Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted through contaminated food, water, and surfaces.

The eight children from Alappuzha had been taken to hospital yesterday, June 4, after they complained of uneasiness due to a suspected case of food poisoning. The said a few students went to the government hospital on Friday evening itself while others reached the next day. “They are all under treatment. The doctors said their condition is stable,” the police said.

The said that as many as 575 people, including students and teachers, had the mid-day meal from the school on Friday. “There are 650 students studying in the school. On Friday, 575 people — teachers and students – had the mid-day meal from the school. Only eight of them have complained of uneasiness so far,” police said.

Health department officials said more samples have been sent for examination. Prima facie, it is believed that students got food poisoning from mid-day meals distributed at the schools.

Education Minister V Sivankutty has convened a meeting of officials to discuss what steps should be taken to make mid-day meals safe. In November last year, over a dozen students of a veterinary college in had been infected with norovirus.

Meanwhile, another four students of an Anganwadi at Kottarakkara in District Kollam were admitted to a nearby hospital after they complained of uneasiness. Sources said that their condition is stable.

State Health Minister Veena George has asked the Food Safety Commissioner to look into both the incidents and file a report. “We need to find out whether the food poisoning happened inside the school or not. Also, we need to inspect whether the materials procured by the staff locally are of good quality or not,” a senior official from the food safety department said.

Sources in the health department said the samples have been collected from both the places and testing will be conducted at the government food testing lab.

Earlier in May, a 16-year- girl died of food poisoning and at least 40 others were hospitalised due to suspected food poisoning from an eatery in Kerala’s Kasaragod. The cause of the food poisoning was later found to be a bacterium called shigella.

The first case of the coronavirus disease in India had surfaced in Kerala too.

Basics about norovirus

The initial symptoms of the disease caused by norovirus are vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which show up one or two days after exposure to the virus. Patients also feel nauseous, and suffer from abdominal pain, fever, headaches and body aches. In extreme cases, of fluids could lead to dehydration.

Norovirus is highly contagious and the primary route is oral-faecal. One may get infected multiple times as the virus has different strains. Norovirus is resistant to many disinfectants and can survive in temperatures up to 60°C, so, merely steaming food or chlorinating does not kill the virus. The virus can also survive many common hand sanitisers.

The disease is self-limiting. The infection, though it takes a lot out of the patient, normally lasts only two or three days, and most individuals who are not very young, very old, or malnourished can ride it out with sufficient rest and hydration.

The basic precaution is also the most obvious — repeatedly washing hands with soap after using the lavatory or changing diapers. It is important to wash hands carefully before eating or preparing food. During outbreaks, surfaces must be disinfected with a solution of hypochlorite at 5,000 parts per million. Diagnosis is done by real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. No vaccines are available for the disease. It is important to maintain hydration in the acute phase. In extreme cases, patients have to be administered rehydration fluids intravenously.

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