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J Hosp Infect. 2000 May;45(1):1-10.

Management of hospital outbreaks of gastro-enteritis due to small roundstructured viruses.

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Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, Hope Hospital, Salford.


Small round structured viruses (SRSVs, Norwalk-like viruses, NLVs) are the most common cause of outbreaks of gastro-enteritis in hospitals and also cause outbreaks in other settings such as schools, hotels, nursing homes and cruise ships. Hospital outbreaks often lead to ward closure and major disruption in hospital activity. Outbreaks usually affect both patients and staff, sometimes with attack rates in excess of 50%. For this reason, staff shortages can be severe, particularly if several wards are involved at the same time. SRSVs may be spread by several routes: faecal-oral; vomiting/aerosols; food and water. Viruses may be introduced into the ward environment by any of these routes and then propagated by person-to-person spread. In an outbreak setting, the diagnosis can usually be made rapidly and confidently on clinical and epidemiological grounds, particularly if vomiting is a prominent symptom. By the time an SRSV outbreak has been recognized at ward level, most susceptible individuals will have been exposed to the virus and infection control efforts must prioritize the prevention of spread of infection to other clinical areas bycontainment of infected/exposed individuals (especially the prevention of patient and staff movements to other areas), hand-hygiene and effective environmental decontamination. This report of the Public Health Laboratory Service Viral Gastro-enteritis Working Group reviews the epidemiology of outbreaks of infection due to SRSVs and makes recommendations for their management in the hospital setting. The basic principles which underpin these recommendations will also be applicable to the management of some community-based institutional outbreaks.

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