With the recent suspected outbreaks at an elementary school in Coventry and, now, Wright's Farm restaurant in Burrillville, you might be wondering what's going on. But norovirus is one of the most common stomach bugs. Here are a few facts to put things in perspective.
- According to the CDC's Foodborne Outbreak Online Database, between 2011-2014 (the most recent data available), there were 14 confirmed norovirus outbreaks in Rhode Island, and 47 foodborne-related illness outbreaks in the Ocean State overall. That's compared to 10 norovirus outbreaks in Massachusetts during the same time period, and 33 in Connecticut.
- Most outbreaks occurred in March and December. You can catch norovirus any time of year, but winter months are more commonly associated with outbreaks.
- The CDC notes that norovirus is the most common cause of "acute gatroenteritis" (think: nasty stomach bug) worldwide. It spreads easily, from contaminated food, hands, and surfaces. It's the most common foodborne illness in the U.S., sickening more than 20 million people a year, and killing anywhere from less than 100 to 300. Prevent the spread by washing hands, keeping surfaces clean, washing fruits and vegetables, and cooking seafood thoroughly.
- A new, more virulent strain of norovirus, GII.4 Sydney, emerged a few years ago, replacing the dominant strain. New strains have emerged several times over the past decade. They're usually, but not always, associated with more frequent outbreaks.
- A number of norovirus vaccines are in the works; researchers say it's a huge challenge in part because of the diverse group of people who could benefit from such a vaccine. Other challenges include learning more about how the human immune system responds to the virus, and whether a vaccine could protect against multiple strains.