RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A few weeks ago, the Salinas, CA–based company, Tanimura & Antle voluntarily recalled shipments of romaine lettuce, due to potential Salmonella contamination. No one was sickened by the recalled products, but that’s not surprising: Despite all the attention these recalls get in the media, neither E. coli nor Salmonella are the number one cause of food poisoning in this country. That distinction falls to norovirus, a viral infection that is often confused with the flu because it causes similar symptoms. As we move towards a potentially difficult flu season, knowing how to tell an influenza infection from a case of flulike food poisoning will be more important than ever.
THE DETAILS: Norovirus, a.k.a. Norwalk-like virus, is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the U.S., responsible for nearly 50 percent of food poisoning cases in the country. It’s often mistakenly called the stomach flu, despite the fact that it isn’t caused by the influenza virus. The symptoms are very similar to the flu and include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Some people also complain of fever and chills. The virus is highly contagious and is generally spread by infected food handlers.
WHAT IT MEANS: Because the symptoms of norovirus are so similar to those of the flu, it’s easy to confuse the two. And considering that fears over swine flu are reaching their peak, it’s important not to overreact when you start to feel a queasy stomach. Knowing how ID a likely norovirus infection makes it easier to avoid a repeat of the experience, if you can link the episode to what (or where) you ate. Norovirus symptoms usually occur 24 to 48 hours after exposure, but sometimes begin as early as 12 hours after.