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Clin Microbiol Rev. 1993 Jul;6(3):199-210.

Outbreaks of food-borne and waterborne viral gastroenteritis.

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Acute Disease Epidemiology Section, Minnesota Department of Health, Minneapolis 55440.


Norwalk virus infection is the epidemiologic prototype for outbreaks of food-borne and waterborne gastroenteritis. Around the world, Norwalk virus and Norwalk-like viruses appear to be major causes of food-borne and waterborne illness. Assessment of the overall significance of viral agents to the epidemiology of food-borne and waterborne illness is hampered by the lack of surveillance throughout much of the world. In areas where food-borne and waterborne illness surveillance is conducted, outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis are underreported because of the lack of availability of routine laboratory services to confirm the viral etiology. Routine use of epidemiologic criteria as an alternative to laboratory confirmation will allow better assessments of the importance of viral gastroenteritis until effective laboratory methods can be widely implemented. Outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis have been propagated by contamination of water supplies, raw foods, and ill food handlers. Controlling an outbreak depends on identifying and removing the source of contamination. The demonstrated occurrence of person-to-person transmission and the likely occurrence of transmission of Norwalk-like viruses by aerosol make it necessary to evaluate the potential for transmission by food handlers and servers in every outbreak, regardless of primary source.

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