Norovirus Surveillance: An Epidemiological Perspective

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Surveillance for norovirus is challenging because the nature of illness due to norovirus is such that the majority of people who are infected will not have any contact with medical services and are highly unlikely to have a sample collected for diagnosis. Public health advice urges people to not visit hospitals or their family physicians, to prevent the risk further spread. The recognition of the importance of this pathogen was quickly established following the introduction of surveillance of outbreaks of gastrointestinal infection in England and Wales in 1992. This period saw >1800 outbreaks of norovirus infection reported in hospitals in England, affecting >45 000 patients and staff. A new system for reporting outbreaks of norovirus infection in hospitals, the Hospital Norovirus outbreak Reporting Scheme (HNORS), began in January 2009. Summary information on outbreaks is provided by infection control staff at hospitals and includes questions on the date the first and last person in the outbreak became symptomatic and whether closure of a bay or ward was needed. In the first 3 years (2009–2011) of the HNORS surveillance scheme, 4000 outbreaks were reported, affecting 40 000 patients and 10 000 staff. Over the last 3 years, these outbreaks have been associated with an average of 13 000 patients and 3400 staff becoming ill, with 15 000 lost bed-days annually. With the possible introduction of a vaccine on the horizon, targeted research with a more integrated approach to laboratory testing and outbreak reporting is essential to a greater understanding of the epidemiology of norovirus.

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