Norovirus a Common Cause of Illness Worldwide

Norovirus has been a common cause of diarrhea and vomiting throughout the world

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The phrase "the stomach bug" is pretty common, but what is this illness with unpleasant symptoms? In many cases, it might be norovirus.

The researchers behind a new study performed a review of previous studies related to stomach illness, or gastroenteritis, around the globe.

The researchers estimated that norovirus was behind nearly a fifth of all cases of gastroenteritis.

"Wash your hands thoroughly before eating or handling food."

This new study was led by Benjamin Lopman, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to Dr. Lopman and colleagues, acute gastroenteritis — inflammation of the stomach and intestines that often results in vomiting and diarrhea — is a very common infectious disease, and norovirus is a common contagious virus that can cause this disease.

Norovirus can be spread directly from person to person through consuming contaminated food or water or through contact with contaminated surfaces, explained CDC.

Dr. Lopman and team aimed to explore just how many illnesses norovirus causes each year across the globe. To do so, the researchers searched a number of databases to find studies related to norovirus and gastroenteritis. A total of 175 studies that included data from 1990 to 2014 from 48 different countries were identified.

These studies included 187,336 patients with acute gastroenteritis. Of these patients, 18 percent were determined to have norovirus. No major differences were seen in the rates of norovirus in people of different ages.

Norovirus seemed to be slightly more common in community, or general public, settings, where the rate was 24 percent. Norovirus was also common in outpatient settings, which usually includes people simply visiting a hospital or clinic for care before returning home. The norovirus rate in outpatient settings was 20 percent. By comparison, the hospital "inpatient" rate of norovirus was 17 percent of the cases identified.

"Norovirus is a key gastroenteritis pathogen associated with almost a fifth of all cases of acute gastroenteritis, and targeted intervention to reduce norovirus burden, such as vaccines, should be considered," the researchers wrote.

This study was a review of previous studies that resulted in estimates of the rate of norovirus around the globe. Further research into the prevalence of norovirus is needed.

To prevent spreading norovirus, CDC recommends washing hands thoroughly, avoiding preparing food or caring for others when sick and cleaning contaminated areas.

The study appears June 27 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Funding for the study was provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of the Netherlands. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
June 26, 2014
Last Updated:
June 27, 2014