Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Rogue Agent Nor, Threat To Millions

Season’s greetings!! The preparation for this winter holiday can be an exciting and somewhat stressful time. Thinking of suitable presents to buy for your family, friends and random distant relatives that stay over can be quite demanding. It is also a time when many of us will be travelling to be with friends and loved ones. With flights and trains practically fully booked and major roads busy, this proves to be a difficult feat for some. The prospect of spending time with those that are important and sharing gifts and cards seem to spur people on to make the journey. However, there is one gift that most people would not appreciate or expect to receive this Christmas. Diarrhoea.

The antagonist behind those precious hours wasted on the toilet seat is... Infectious Agent Nor more commonly known as Norovirus. I’m sure most of you will think that being infected is statistically low (which it is) and label this impending catastrophe as ridiculous. However, it is urged that you think twice before shaking hands with people, eating without washing your hands or engage in a mass brawl over the last jar of cranberry sauce in Tesco’s.
How it works
Norovirus in action.

The virus gains entry into the body and replicates in the cells located in the small intestine.   Infection leads to the dysfunction of the epithelial barrier, the layer of cells that separate the inside of the small intestine from the surrounding network of blood vessels, lymphatic system and surrounding fluid. The disruption of the barrier releases lymphocytes, otherwise known as white blood cells, into the intestine which can be toxic to the cells. Furthermore, the increase in epithelial cell apoptosis (Cell death) from the action of lymphocytes and the increase in positive ion secretion cause an imbalance in ion concentration. These changes in the stomach and small intestine cause inflammation which is medically known as gastroenteritis. The stomach is left feeling a bubbling sensation no amount of Imodium Plus can fix. This feeling is then proceeded by the sudden realization of what is about to come out along with the anticipation of being in discomfort and pain.

What is it?

Norovirus is a positive-sense RNA virus responsible for causing gastroenteritis. This Christmas villain is not seasonal like the flu however, its activity and power is greatly increased during the winter period due to the millions of people travelling in and out the country. The main symptoms exhibited by an infected individual are stomach cramps, sudden sever vomiting (often projectile) and diarrhoea. The virus has two main super powers: high infection rate and ability to multiply and spread itself. There are many ways the virus can be caught and only a small amount is needed to cause infection:-
  • Direct contact with vomit or diarrhoea of an infected individual. Great care should be taken especially if you are assigned the task of cleaning up after your sister or if your friend ruins your favourite shoes.
  • Not cleaning or washing your hands after using the toilet. Standard hygiene people! This point really shouldn’t have to be here.
  • Coming into contact with surfaces where the virus could be found (i.e. toilet seats, furniture, hand rails on the buses or trains particularly in oxford circus tube station).
  • Vegetables and seafood. Some seafood may be contaminated from sewage polluted sea. Make sure food is washed and cooked thoroughly.
  • By breathing in the airborne virus.
Upon catching Norovirus, the victim will not exhibit the symptoms for 12 hours to 3 days later. This incubation period increases the chances of Christmas dinner being ruined as a result of becoming infected during the last minute shopping trip a few days before Christmas. Even after the symptoms are gone, the relentless virus continues to battle the immune system. This leaves the subject still contagious for two days and in some cases up to two weeks after the symptoms have disappeared. Even though the virus is seemingly unstoppable (which it is), there are measures that can be taken to reduce the chance of infection.

Although there is no kryptonite available for the Superman of viruses, there are simple measures that can be taken to avoid decorating your family, Christmas tree and turkey with chunder. Those who are freakishly hygienic and are constantly armed with anti-bacterial or alcohol hand gels will be mortified by the news that they are a lot less effective against Norovirus. One of Norovirus’s special abilities is that it does not form a lipid envelope. The presence of a lipid envelope protects the infectious agent and enables it to survive outside the body. Sanitizing hand gels and wipes are effective at removing this ‘shield’ thus killing or inactivating the bacteria or virus. Since Norovirus doesn’t need such protection to survive, it is fairly resistant to detergents and alcohols which are found in every hand gel and soap products. So whilst using this product is recommended, there is no point in using it every five minutes as it will only leave your hand with a pleasant scent.

Washing hands is an effective method to prevent infection. This action should be conducted with soap after coming into contact with an infected individual or after being in a crowded place where surfaces may have the virus. Hands should also be washed before eating and certainly before carving the Christmas turkey. Most shoppers should think twice before the cheeky visit to McDonald’s after touching and trying on countless jumpers, shirts and dresses in Topshop/Topman.

The most effective way to remain infection free is complete isolation. Doors and windows should be locked and visitors should be told to f**k off. Christmas food should be bought before the winter season and presents given after March. Warning! Those of you not organised enough for operation isolation will have an increased chance of illness or possible death due to lack of supplies! The above method is not actually viable and probably will result in the loss of your job, depression and death, not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately for those of you who have acquired the virus, isolation is the best way to prevent the disease from spreading to other people. There is no use in going to your GP or hospital as there is no treatment and the symptoms usually reside after a few days. It is recommended that infected individuals should regularly wash their hands and drink lots of water (NOT alcohol) and rehydration solutions to prevent dehydration.
Whilst the amount of people infected in England is quite low, about a million people in a year. Prevention is better than cure, except in this case there is no cure, only pain, so preventions is the only way. Those of you that have avoided or defeated this villain, congratulations! May your Christmas and New Year be filled with joy, happiness and in most cases drunken anticss. But be warned, immunity against Agent Nor is only temporary and the virus will inevitably return with a vengeance in a year’s time.

Merry Christmas.