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No one wants to put a damper on your holiday parties, but the medical community does want you to be on guard for food poisoning, in particular, the norovirus infection, the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States.
Noroviruses -- they come in many varieties -- spread easily, and they annually cause more than 20 million cases of gastroenteritis, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gastroenteritis is commonly referred to as the stomach flu. If it’s caused by food poisoning, then the norovirus or another agent has inflamed the stomach and intestines to the point of nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and other symptoms.
One frequent consequence of gastroenteritis is dehydration, not replacing the fluids in your body fast enough after one to three days of a lot of vomiting and/or diarrhea. It’s critical to get a health care practitioner’s advice if you can’t keep fluids down.
Whether you want to call it gastroenteritis or stomach flu, you most definitely want to avoid it. Be aware that the norovirus is called the “cruise ship virus” because it often causes widespread illness in crowded, enclosed environments such as cruise ships, as well as daycare settings, long-term care facilities, hotels and schools.
A holiday party, either catered or home-prepared, might be a large enough gathering to cause concern, or at least awareness, regarding the possibility of food poisoning.
Because heat will normally kill the germs that contaminate foods, you mainly need to keep an eye out for leafy greens, fresh fruits and shellfish on those holiday platters. It’s those three categories that have most often been implicated in foodborne norovirus outbreaks, the CDC says. But that doesn’t rule out other foods as culprits.
The CDC points out that noroviruses that cause illness are found in the vomit and stool of infected people. Makes you want to run for the hand sanitizer, doesn’t it?
From the CDC, here are three common scenarios for the spread of noroviruses:
-- From an infected person who has not washed the virus from his or her hands and who touches the food items or drinks that you are about to grab.