The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that noroviruses cause nearly 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis annually, making noroviruses the leading cause of gastroenteritis in adults in the United States. Of the viruses, only the common cold is reported more often than a norovirus infection—also referred to as viral gastroenteritis.
Nature has created an ingenious bug in norovirus. The round blue ball structure of norovirus is a protein surrounding the virus’s genetic material. The virus attaches to the outside of cells lining the intestine, and then transfers its genetic material into those cells. Once the genetic material has been transferred, norovirus reproduces, finally killing the human cells and releasing new copies of itself that attach to more cells of the intestine’s lining.
Humans are the only host of norovirus, and norovirus has several mechanisms that allow it to spread quickly and easily. Norovirus infects humans in a pathway like the influenza virus’ mode of infection. Norovirus causes nearly 60% of all foodborne illness outbreaks. Norovirus is transmitted primarily through the fecal-oral route, with fewer than 100 norovirus particles needed to cause infection. Transmission occurs either person-to-person or through contamination of food or water.