Don’t get notorious this food safety month

September is National Food Safety Month and this year’s theme is “Notorious Virus.”

Many people don’t know that viruses can bring about foodborne illness, and they blame it on bacteria, but some of the largest outbreaks in the United States are caused by Norovirus and Hepatitis A – both virulent viruses.

Norovirus is often referred to as the “stomach bug.” Many of us have had it without knowing our illness was caused by a virus. Norovirus comes on quickly, usually within a couple hours, and symptoms consist of vomiting and diarrhea, stomach cramping and even fever and body aches. In some at-risk people like the elderly, small children and those with a weakened immune system, it can cause severe dehydration leading to hospital stays. Some in the at-risk population die from their symptoms. The norovirus illness usually lasts no more than a few days in healthy people.

The best way to avoid getting norovirus is to wash your hands often, especially if coming in contact with someone with the “stomach bug.” The virus can be infectious for a long time on sinks, and other inanimate objects, so touching something that the sick person touched, like dishes or laundry, can bring about the illness. It can be transferred through food as well, so if you are experiencing symptoms DO NOT prepare food. You should also be sure to rinse all fruit and vegetables, cook food to its required minimum internal temperature, and clean and sanitize kitchen surfaces often.

Hepatitis A is quite different from Norovirus. You can have the virus for weeks before showing any symptoms. Some symptoms are the same as with norovirus, but fatigue, joint pain, dark urine and yellowing of the skin (jaundice) also occurs. There can also be pain or discomfort in the area of the liver. Hepatitis A lasts for weeks to several months, and if you believe you have the virus, you should contact your doctor.

Hepatitis A can be spread by drinking contaminated water, being close to someone who has the virus, including sexual contact, eating food polluted by sewage, and eating food prepared by someone with the virus if they don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet. If any of these pertain to you, and you have symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor or health center to be tested.

There are many other viruses that can cause illness, but these two are the focus of National Food Safety Month this year. Michigan State University Extension recommends you learn about how bacteria and viruses can cause you to be ill, and take precautions like washing your hands well and often to avoid becoming ill.

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