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Sick? Don’t prepare food for others!

Recent norovirus outbreaks prompt health officials to urge caution

An alarming number of outbreaks of stomach illness across the state should be a reminder to Iowans participating in gatherings where food is served. With more than a week remaining for holiday and year-end celebrations, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is asking sick Iowans to think twice before preparing food for others.

“If you’re healthy and you’ve been healthy for the last few days, go ahead and mix up a batch of cookies or slice up a fruit tray,” said IDPH Medical Director Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “But if you’ve had any sort of stomach illness, do not prepare food of any kind for others. In particular, symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea should be your ticket out of the kitchen until 48 hours have passed since your recovery.”

In the last 10 days, IDPH has been investigating reports of eight medium to large outbreaks of probable norovirus in five counties. Norovirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis (also called “the stomach bug”) and most of these outbreaks are associated with sick people preparing food for others.

Three groups got ill after eating at a restaurant where several food handlers had also been ill. Outbreaks were also associated with events like holiday parties and holiday potlucks, where foods were likely prepared and served by recently ill people.

“We’re also getting lots anecdotal reports of probable norovirus outbreaks in other areas of the state,” Quinlisk added. “This virus can be a real holiday spoiler, making your friends and loved ones sick for several days. So, if you are or have been sick, you’ll just have to wait for the next opportunity to make your signature fudge-you’re off kitchen duty until 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped!”

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