A health officer in Norway said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is trying to confirm an outbreak of the contagious norovirus at an upscale townhouse party on the island of Bornholm.
Norway Health, the country’s health regulator, announced late Friday that eight cases of the watery intestinal illness were identified this week from a party last week on Bornholm, a 90-minute ferry ride away from the mainland. In total, the regional health authority has identified 59 cases of norovirus at events from Lund to Jotunheimen, an area about 200 miles from Oslo.
“The estimates on the number of Norwalk infections on any given day are very large. If the outbreaks spread with the same effect, they will be thousands,” Jan Johnsen, a health authority member, said in a statement. “We are planning for the worst.”
Johnsen noted that South Africa’s outbreak, which has sickened nearly 55,000 in 12 months, is “on a world scale.”
“This is one of the largest outbreaks of norovirus I’ve seen in the world, and, so far, there’s no indication that we’re starting to get a lot of this virus in Europe,” he told AFP.
Norovirus, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps, can be severe.
The outbreak has hit hotels, restaurants and the transport system, including boat rides to and from the island, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK reported.
Norovirus is highly contagious and it is likely the outbreak was caused by a handful of “epidemic-tolerant” strains of the virus that do not respond well to the antiviral medicine available to treat the infection, according to Dr. Peggy Schaub, an emergency room physician at a Norwegian hospital.
“The numbers are large, but it’s not something you can identify by just looking,” she told Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. “It’s not the type of outbreak that you might see in a normal hospital. It’s much more spread.”
Dr. Tim Huggett, an infectious disease physician at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, called the Norwegian outbreak one of the largest outbreaks in recent history.
More than 60 people were hospitalized in South Africa last week as a result of the norovirus outbreak.
Authorities warned that the norovirus can spread quickly in the population, especially during holidays when people are more likely to get sick. Norovirus can contaminate surfaces as well as food and beverages.
“If people haven’t washed their hands, then that could bring it [the virus] in,” Schaub said.
Dr. David Whitney, a gastroenterologist at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, told the Evening Standard that it’s not unusual for the norovirus to spread when the temperature rises, especially in places where people socialize.
“It spreads quite readily. People who are sick spread it quite readily to other people who aren’t sick,” he said.
The viruses spread through contaminated food and beverages and the environment, as well as the fingers and mouth.
Symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps and stomach pain. People suffering with diarrhea and vomiting are advised to drink plenty of water or hydration solution.