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Frequently Asked Questions
  • How important is poor hand washing as a cause of illness?
  • If I have diarrhea, what should I do?
  • What kind of illness is caused by the Norwalk virus?
  • What's news about washing my hands?


    How important is poor hand washing as a cause of illness?

    There is growing awareness that a family of viruses (Norwalk-like viruses) are responsible for a very large number of foodborne illnesses. The Norwalk-like viruses are primarily spread by human feces or vomit.  

    It is estimated that there are more than 9 million cases/year of viral gastroenteritis caused by Norwalk-like viruses, which is about four times more illness than is caused by any other known foodborne pathogen.  

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    If I have diarrhea, what should I do?

    Wash your hands very thoroughly with warm water and soap and dry them with a paper towel every time after you use the bathroom.  However, you may not be able to totally disinfect your hands; thus it is recommended that you do not prepare foods for anyone else when you have diarrhea.  If you must prepare foods for your family, prepare foods that are served piping hot such as soups.  Let others set the table, and fix any ready-to-eat foods such as salad.

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    What kind of illness is caused by the Norwalk virus?

    Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses usually cause a mild illness, with onset marked by sudden vomiting and diarrhea.  Usually within a day or two, the vomiting and diarrhea have passed.

    Because the virus multiplies in the intestine, a very large number of virus particles are in the feces or vomitus when a person has a Norwalk-like virus infection.  It does not take very many viral particles cause an infection; thus the percentage of people who get ill after consuming a food contaminated with Norwalk-like viruses may be very high.  

    Shigella species and E. coli O157:H7 also have a low infectious dose and infections with these two bacteria can also be gotten from contaminated food.  

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    What's news about washing my hands?

    Yes, we know that's what Mom used to tell you.  It's still a very important way to prevent illness.  

    Most of the illnesses that are associated with poor hand washing are passed from human or animal feces to food.  So it's really important to wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a baby's diaper, or touch a pet and other animal.

    An infected cut or burn can also be a source of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

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