Norovirus Is Leading Cause Of U.S. Hospital Infectious Outbreaks: Report

Norovirus, a bug that causes food poisoning and stomach flu, is the leading cause of infectious outbreaks in hospitals in the United States, according to a new report.

Norovirus infections accounted for 18.2 percent of outbreaks and 65 percent of closures of hospital wards during 2008 and 2009, according to the study published in the American Journal of Infection Control. The report was compiled by researchers from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology Consulting Services and the Lexington Insurance Company.

Norovirus is one of four bugs that make up the majority (60 percent) of hospital infection outbreaks. Staphylococcus aureus made up 17.5 percent of infectious outbreaks, Acinetobacter spp made up 13.7 percent of infectious outbreaks and Clostridium difficile made up 10.3 percent of infectious outbreaks, according to the study.

The report included 386 investigations of infectious outbreaks that were reported by 289 different hospitals around the U.S.

A 2010 study also in the American Journal of Infection Control showed that "improved cleaning/disinfection of environmental surfaces and hand hygiene have been shown to reduce the spread of all of these pathogens."

Norovirus can be spread by touching surfaces that have been contaminated, or by consuming contaminated food and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's characterized by stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.

Late last year, there was an outbreak of norovirus in British hospitals, prompting the closures of multiple hospital wards, the Press Association reported.