Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – February 23rd, 2007

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

February 23, 2007

Norovirus Outbreaks Surge this Winter

From nursing homes and schools to restaurants and cruise ships, reports of norovirus infection have risen significantly this winter, according to public health officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that during a typical year noroviruses cause about 23 million infections, 50,000 hospitalizations and more than 300 deaths in the U.S. The current rate of reports suggests 2006-2007 will record higher than normal incidents of illness and fatality.

Spread through contaminated food or person-to-person either through direct contact or by touching contaminated surfaces, noroviruses are a group of approximately 40 strains of highly contagious virus. Infections cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and fever with symptoms that normally last a day or two. Up to 10 percent of those who contract a norovirus-related illness require medical attention for complications such as dehydration.

Public health agencies stress back-to-basics personal hygiene regimes to avoid norovirus infection. These include frequent soap and water hand-washing routines and proper disinfection of bathroom counters, toilets, door knobs, sinks and other areas with diluted household bleach.

For more information on noroviruses from the CDC, please go to:

Source of Salmonella Contaminated Peanut Butter Confirmed

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that peanut butter produced by ConAgra Foods, Inc. in a Sylvester, Georgia processing plant is the source of the Salmonellosis outbreak that has sickened 288 people in 39 states since August. Thus far, 46 of those affected have been hospitalized with severe symptoms and a class action law suit has been filed against ConAgra due to the widespread effects of the foodborne illness.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified the Sylvester plant as the likely single source of the tainted peanut butter.

Salmonellosis is an abdominal illness caused by the pathogen Salmonella found in the feces of humans or animals. Symptoms of the illness can last up to a week and include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe case of the infection.

Currently, the FDA has issued a consumer advisory of a possible Salmonella enterica serovar Tennessee contamination of Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter purchased since May 2006. Those who have a jar of either product with the code on the lid starting “2111” are advised to either return it to the store for exchange or refund or discard the jar and send the lid to ConAgra.

According to the CDC, there are an estimated 40 million cases of Salmonellosis reported in the U.S. each year, the vast majority of which are mild and cause relatively minor symptoms.

For the latest update from the CDC on the Salmonella outbreak, please go to:

CDC Reports Latest Flu Season Data

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) issued its updated U.S. flu activity for the period October 1, 2006 – February 3, 2007 in the latest edition of the agency’s Morbidly & Mortality Weekly Report.

According to the CDC, the U.S. has experienced moderate levels of influenza activity during this period. Activity remained at low levels through early December. However, from mid-December through the end of 2006 illness occurrences increased, declined slightly in early January, and then increased once again in mid-January. During this period, the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS) reported that 6,244 tests for influenza virus were positive. To date, state and territorial epidemiologists report that there are nine states with widespread flu activity and 19 states with regional activity.

Nationally, the 2006-2007 flu season has been a difficult one on children, with CDC reporting that at least nine children have died from flu complications. Six additional child deaths have been tentatively linked to flu since February 3. On average, an estimated 36,000 deaths occur in the U.S. each year from flu, the majority of which are elderly people or adults with compromised immune systems or other health problems.

To view the CDC report from the February 16 issue of MMWR, please go to:

For more information from the Water Quality & Health Council on flu and reducing flu risk, please go to:

Study Finds Office Desks a Haven for Bacteria

A new study reports that the average office desktop has 400 times more bacteria than the average office toilet seat, with phones ranked as the primary surface area for germs. Desks, keyboards and computer mice were also discovered to have high amounts of bacterial contamination. Published by the University of Arizona and funded by The Clorox Company, the study collected samples from more than 616 surfaces from private offices and cubicles in buildings located in Tucson, Arizona and Washington, DC.

According to the researchers, 25 percent fewer bacteria were found on surfaces that were disinfected regularly. The study recommends frequent hand-washing and daily use of disinfecting wipes on hard surfaces to kill illness-causing germs.

The study also noted that woman have 3 to 4 times the number of bacteria in their work spaces than their male co-workers. While women’s desks typically looked cleaner, the number of personal items, cosmetic and food stored in desk drawers accounted for the increase in germs, according to the report.

The findings are a new installment of the multi-part research project conducted by the University of Arizona’s Dr. Charles Gerba called “Germs in the Workplace”. The study looks at the presence of viruses within the workplace and the professions that are most exposed to illness causing germs.

To read more about the results of the study, please go to:

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