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Year-Round Prevalence of Norovirus in the Environment of Catering Companies without a Recently Reported Outbreak of Gastroenteritis

Food handlers play an important role in the transmission of norovirus (NoV) in food-borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis (GE). In a year-round prevalence study, the prevalence of NoV in catering companies without recently reported outbreaks of GE was investigated and compared to the observed prevalence in catering companies with recently reported outbreaks. Swab samples were collected from surfaces in the kitchens and (staff) bathrooms in 832 randomly chosen companies and analyzed for the presence of NoV RNA. In total, 42 (1.7%) out of 2,496 environmental swabs from 35 (4.2%) catering companies tested positive.

In contrast, NoV was detected in 147 (39.7%) of the 370 samples for 44 (61.1%) of the 72 establishments associated with outbreaks of gastroenteritis. NoV-positive swabs were more frequently found in winter, in specific types of companies (elderly homes and lunchrooms), and in establishments with separate bathrooms for staff. We found a borderline association with population density but no relation to the number of employees.

Sequence analysis showed that environmental strains were interspersed with strains found in outbreaks of illness in humans. Thus, the presence of NoV in catering companies seemed to mirror the presence in the population but was strongly increased when associated with food-borne GE. Swabs may therefore serve as a valuable tool in outbreak investigations for the identification of the causative agent, although results should be interpreted with care, taking into account all other epidemiological data.

Author: Boxman IL, Verhoef L, Dijkman R, Hägele G, Te Loeke NA, Koopmans M.

Citation: Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 May;77(9):2968-74. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02354-10

Published: 04/03/2011

Publication Type: Journal article

Publisher: Applied and Environmental Microbiology