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Researchers have found that the virus is spread by air
Noroviruses are extremely contagious and are therefore responsible for a large part of the non-bacterial gastrointestinal infections in children and adults. So far, it has been assumed that the viruses are transmitted fecally-orally (e.g. via contact with contaminated areas) or by ingestion of droplets containing viruses as a result of vomiting. But Canadian researchers have now found that they can apparently travel longer distances by air. This could explain why outbreaks of the disease have so far been difficult to control.
Infection takes place in a "fecal-oral" way
More than 50% of gastrointestinal infections are caused by so-called "noroviruses". A small number of pathogens is enough to cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting in just a few hours. In addition, there is usually a pronounced feeling of illness with headache, fatigue and fatigue. Since the viruses are highly contagious, they spread quickly especially when there are many people in one spot, such as in kindergartens, schools or hospitals. So far it has been assumed that the transmission takes place in particular via the “fecal-oral” route. In this case, the viruses are excreted via the stool and vomit of infected people and then due to insufficient hand hygiene e.g. passed on by shaking hands or contaminated objects (door handles etc.).
Researchers take air samples in eight hospitals and nursing homes
The direct transmission from person to person is the main reason for the high number of norovirus infections, but besides this they can also be caused by contaminated food (salads, mussels etc.) or e.g. contaminated water. In addition, it has been known for a long time that the pathogens can also cover short distances by air, where they are enclosed in tiny droplets that arise from vomiting a patient in the immediate vicinity.
However, Canadian researchers have now found that the viruses can apparently “fly” much further than previously thought. The scientists led by Caroline Duchaine from the Université Laval in Quebec had collected air samples for their study in eight hospitals and nursing homes where gastrointestinal infections had occurred. The experts took a breath of air from the patients 'sickrooms at a distance of one meter from the sick, and there were also samples from the hallways in front of the rooms and from the nurses' rooms, according to the Laval University.
Air contaminated in 54% of hospital rooms
The scientists finally found what they were looking for in the air of six of the eight investigated facilities by detecting concentrations of 13 to 2350 pieces per cubic meter. A dose of 20 norovirus particles is usually sufficient to trigger a gastrointestinal infection. "The viruses were detected in 54% of the hospital rooms of gastroenteritis patients, 38% of the hallways leading to these and around 50% of the sisters' lounges," the university said. The pathogens could then get into the throat from the air, be swallowed and eventually lead to an infection - which, in the case of noroviruses, can only be triggered in the digestive system.
Previous safety measures only aimed at direct patient contact
The fact that the viruses could apparently continue to fly is a new finding that could possibly explain why outbreaks of the disease have so far been difficult to control.
"So far, the existing measures in the hospital have only been limited to direct contact with infected patients. In view of our results, however, it is now necessary to review these specifications to take into account the possibility of airborne norovirus transmission. The use of mobile air filter systems or the wearing of respiratory protection in the vicinity of patients with gastroenteritis are measures that should be tested, ”says study leader Caroline Duchaine from the Université Laval.
In the event of illness, it is essential to ensure consistent hygiene
So far, vaccination against noroviruses has not been possible. Accordingly, one can only try to avoid infection through consistent hygiene. For contact persons of sick people this includes e.g. wearing gloves or respiratory protection, careful hand hygiene and disinfection as well as the disinfection of surfaces with which the patient has come into contact, e.g. Toilets, sinks or door handles. (No)
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