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Gastroenteritis outbreak linked to reusable shopping bag

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You know those woven reusable shopping bags we all drag along to the grocery store with us? Well, now one of those has been linked to a norovirus outbreak at a girls' soccer tournament.

Top image: pond5/Awrangler

In 2010, a group of 17 young Oregonian women, aged between 13-14, and four adult chaperones, went to Washington for a soccer tournament, during which eight of them got sick with gastroenteritis — and this small case shows just how incredibly well norovirus can spread. By analyzing the shared habits of this small group, the researchers were able to pin the disease on one thing: a shopping bag that carried the virus.

What happened was that the group were staying together, and when one teenager started feeling sick, she changed rooms and moved in with a chaperone — but before any really bad symptoms manifested. What happened soon thereafter is familiar to anyone who has had food poisoning: the eternally wonderful combination of vomiting and diarrhea. Soon after this happened, her and the chaperone left the tournament — but then more people started getting sick. How did the virus spread, if she was pulled away from her teammates before the illness could be transmitted?


It turns out that in the bathroom of the chaperone was a grocery bag, which contained packaged cookies, chips, and fresh grapes. Those cookies were served at lunch the next day, and all seven of the remaining infected handled the bag in one way or another. It seems that when the virus aerosolized while being expelled and flushed, and settled on surfaces in the bathroom — including the bag.

While the immediate takeaway from this is obviously "for god's sake, don't store food in the bathroom!", it does show just how careful you have to be with outbreaks like this. The virus can settle on any surface, and simply breathing the air near where someone was vomiting can be enough to infect you. So maybe you shouldn't be holding your friend's hair out of their face when they throw up after all...