Remember the college mumps outbreak late last spring? Well it started out in Iowa. It was also complemented by a similar British outbreak. Flash forward to Mid-Fall '06 and Iowa is at it again, with a massive outbreak of norovirus. From Des Moines WHO TV:
"Des Moines, November 21, 2006 - Nearly 1,000 Iowans have gotten ill in the last several weeks due to a variety of viruses called norovirus, that from the Iowa Department of Public Health. At least seven outbreaks have occurred in a wide variety of settings such as social receptions, long-term care facilities, a gaming facility, business functions, restaurants and schools. The outbreaks have no common links, but are spread by people failing to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before preparing food, as well as working in food preparation while ill with vomiting and diarrhea. While norovirus outbreaks can occur throughout the year, it is unusual to see this number of them in a short period of time, prompting concerns that more disease will spread as we go into the holiday season."
Here's a report from Iowa newspaper, The Gazette:
"State health officials today said norovirus caused the outbreak last week that sickened more than a third of students at Lambert Elementary in Manchester. A fast-spreading virus, norovirus is what many people refer to as "stomach flu," with symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.
Kevin Teale, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said lab specimens tested positive for norovirus, but the illness was not traced to a single person or source. Four teachers and about 170 of 450 students were sick Friday, according to the department."
(For clarification, noroviruses are not the only cause of viral gastroenteritis. Rotaviruses are the most common infectious agent in children, and adenoviruses, sapoviruses, and astroviruses can also cause what is commonly called "the stomach flu".)
So this is a mystery outbreak with no known originating source, due to a virus that is not usually this widespread and fast.
Another interesting fact is that the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases is located in Iowa (as part of the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City), which has connections to the Naval Medical Research Center, and regularly has projects funded by Department of Defense grants.
But I'm sure none of that has anything to do with Iowa's propensity to be the epicenter of mysterious infectious outbreaks in America's heartland.
Oh Iowa, get well soon!