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Types of Food Poisoning: Norovirus

What are Noroviruses?

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the "stomach flu," or gastroenteritis. Someone infected with a norovirus may show symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, chills, headaches, and fatigue.

Norovirus illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. Symptoms usually begin about 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus, but can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure. Symptoms usually last for about 1 or 2 days, with vomiting many times a day. In general, children experience more vomiting than adults. Norovirus infections usually have no long term consequence, but patients and their caretakers must drink enough fluid to prevent dehydration.

Viruses are different from bacteria and parasites, some of which can cause illnesses similar to norovirus infection. Like all viral infections, noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics, and cannot grow outside of a person's body.

How Do People Become Infected with Noroviruses?

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people. People can become infected in various ways, including:

●     Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus

●     Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth

●     Having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms

People working in daycare centers or nursing homes should pay special attention to children and residents who have norovirus illness. Norovirus is very contagious and can spread rapidly throughout such environments.

Norovirus can spread easily from person to person. People infected with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least 3 days after recovery. Some people may be contagious for as long as 2 weeks after recovery. It is particularly important to maintain good hand-washing and other hygienic practices, even after they have recently recovered from norovirus illness. Particular care should be taken with young children in diapers who may have diarrhea.

Norovirus and the Law

Most food poisoning related lawsuits involve suing a company which produces food. However, norovirus plaintiffs often sue companies that prepare and serve food, such as restaurants following a particularly severe outbreak of norovirus infections.

Many norovirus lawsuits proceed on a theory of negligence, which has four basic elements: (1) duty, a (2) breach of duty (3) which caused (4) harm.  Restaurants have a duty, often imposed by local governments, to maintain sanitary conditions and serve food that is safe to eat. Although norovirus is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person, it is relatively easy to prevent a norovirus outbreak by requiring employees to thoroughly wash hands, wear gloves, and go home if they are sick. If a restaurant fails to do these things, it runs the risk of breaching its duty to its patrons by selling food contaminated with norovirus.

In many cases, norovirus patients recover quickly after a few very uncomfortable days. These patients may not find it useful to file suit against a restaurant since their damages are limited to a few missed days of work and their suffering. However, patients who had noroviruses severe enough to warrant hospitalization might be able to recover their medical expenses through a lawsuit. If you are considering suing a restaurant for a norovirus infection, it is best to consult with a local attorney who can evaluate your case and explain your options to you.

For more information, see FindLaw’s sections on Who is Liable and Negligence.

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