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Elderly more likely to suffer severe case of norovirus

December 29, 2015
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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Adults 70 and older are more likely to contract norovirus, experience symptoms of both diarrhea and vomiting and report longer illness duration, according to findings in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Norovirus is a contagious virus that can be transmitted by an infected person, contaminated food or water or from touching contaminated surfaces. People usually develop symptoms 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus, and most people get better within one to three days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Since more than 60 percent of reported norovirous outbreaks occur in the elderly population, targeted vaccination of high-risk groups such as the elderly may significantly reduce the burden of hospitalization and death,” researchers wrote. “During our three-year study, 70 percent of the prospectively enrolled LTCSFs reported at least one norovirus outbreak.”

Researchers studied norovirus outbreaks at 43 LTCFs in Oregon from November 2009 to January 2013. They found 47 percent of all symptomatic long-term care facility (LTCF) residents with norovirus shed the virus for at least 21 days, suggesting some people can clear infection sooner than others. They did not find any associations between severity of disease, illness duration and virus shedding.

Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis and the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States, according to the CDC. Each year, it causes 19-21 million illnesses and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths.

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