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CDC: Most norovirus outbreaks caused by sick food service workers

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Cruise ships have a notorious reputation for being Ground Zero for the dreaded (and highly contagious) norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that cases originating on ships only account for 1 percent of all reported outbreaks.

Headlines were made earlier this year when several passengers became sick on a Royal Caribbean cruise, and in 2006, hundreds fell ill on a Carnival boat. But, of the 20 million annual infections, NPR reports, 25 percent of cases are from foodborne transmission, and 70 percent from person-to-person contact. In 92 percent of cases where food was the culprit, it was contaminated by an infected food worker during the final preparation step, after it had already been cooked at a high temperature.

A sick chef or waiter can also spread the virus all over the kitchen; it stays on countertops, spoons, and kitchen surfaces for up to two weeks, and in some cases, hand sanitizers do not kill it. Handwashing is huge when it comes to avoiding the norovirus, but sick food service workers are strongly encouraged to stay home when ill. "We really want to call upon the food service industry to work with public health to help foster an environment where food workers can stay home when they’re sick," Aron Hall of the CDC told NPR.