Understanding Norovirus: The Gastrointestinal Infection Spreading in Kerala

The Kerala Health Department on Monday (January 24) confirmed two cases of the gastrointestinal infection norovirus in class 1 students in Ernakulam district. The two samples were tested after 62 persons — students and their parents — developed symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, a high temperature, headache, and body aches.

What is Norovirus and How Common are Infections?

  • Norovirus is not new; it has been circulating among humans for over 50 years and is thought to be one of the primary causes of gastroenteritis. The virus is estimated to kill 200,000 persons globally every year, with most deaths occurring among those below the age of five years and those over the age of 65 years.
  • The virus is capable of surviving low temperatures, and outbreaks tend to be more common during the winter and in colder countries – that is why it is sometimes referred to as “winter vomiting disease”. The reported cases of norovirus had seen a decline in the United Kingdom during the pandemic, likely due to lax surveillance, but numbers have since picked up. A 48% higher incidence of reported cases than expected was reported by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in 2022.

Incidence of Norovirus in India

  • Cases of norovirus are not as common in India as in many other places, at the same time, the recent cases in Kerala are by no means unique or one-offs. The infection has been reported in previous years as well, mainly from Southern India, and especially from Kerala.
  • A 2016 study by Christian Medical College-Vellore that followed a birth cohort of 373 for three years, detected 1,856 diarrhoeal episodes and 147 vomiting episodes. The study said that norovirus was detected in 11.2% of the diarrhoeal episodes and 20.4% of the vomiting episodes. A 2021 study from Hyderabad reported that norovirus was detected in 10.3% samples of children who came in with acute gastroenteritis.

Why is Norovirus so Common in Kerala?

  • It probably has more to do with Kerala’s strengths than any weaknesses. Dr Sreekumar, Director of the Institute of Advanced Virology-Kerala said that the state has a strong public health system that is capable of picking up clusters of infection and getting them tested quickly.

Can Norovirus Cause a Large-Scale Outbreak?

  • Even though more cases of norovirus are being detected, experts say that this is unlikely to lead to a large-scale outbreak. “Although we haven’t studied the epidemiological co-relates of these cases, what we have seen is that the norovirus cases are sporadic and found in small clusters in schools or hostels where people consume the same foods.
  • The spread of the infection is mainly through contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your hand in your mouth.

Synopsis

Norovirus is a gastrointestinal infection caused by a virus that has been circulating among humans for over 50 years. The recent cases of norovirus in Kerala are not unique or one-offs, as the infection has been reported in previous years as well, mainly from Southern India, and especially from Kerala. The state’s strong public health system is capable of picking up clusters of infection and getting them tested quickly, which could be one of the reasons why the incidence of norovirus is higher in Kerala compared to other parts of India. While the number of reported cases of norovirus has been on the rise in recent years, experts believe that this is unlikely to lead to a large-scale outbreak. The spread of the infection is mainly through contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your hand in your mouth.It is important for individuals to take preventative measures to avoid contracting norovirus, such as washing hands frequently, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding consuming contaminated food or water. In case of infection, individuals should seek medical attention and follow proper isolation protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.

Written by IAS POINT

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