A new strain of the norovirus stomach bug that has hit New
Zealand has been linked to a death in Northland.
The Sydney 2012 norovirus strain was identified in Sydney
last year, and is a combination of two strains that
originated in Holland and Japan in about 2007.
It is a new, highly infectious strain that can cause
It has health officials around the world concerned and 17
outbreaks of the new strain have already been identified in
New Zealand, including one death in Northland.
Northland medical officer of health Jonathan Jarman said the
new strain had replaced the New Orleans strain that had been
around since 2009.
Dr Jarman said of the five confirmed Sydney-strain norovirus
cases reported in Northland between September and last month,
all were in rest homes and affected residents and staff.
He confirmed the death was that of a rest-home patient.
There were 84 outbreaks of the new strain nationally between
October and December and a total of 177 norovirus cases in
Northland last year.
"The feedback I have received from rest-home nurses is that
the Sydney 2012 strain is similar to the New Orleans strain
but perhaps causes more vomiting," Dr Jarman said.
It is likely that many more people have been affected than
just those in these confirmed outbreaks, but most people are
not tested as it usually only causes a couple of days'
illness in healthy people.
Dr Jarman said there were two deaths in Northland in 2011
that were associated with outbreaks caused by the New Orleans
2009 strain so the death from the new strain was not out of
"Norovirus gastroenteritis is normally only a mild to
moderate illness but the elderly and the very young can have
more serious disease.
"In 2011 we had a large outbreak of norovirus in Northland
"The final number of affected people with confirmed or
suspected norovirus gastroenteritis was 288 with two
Dr Jarman said one of the unique features of norovirus was it
could spread through the air as well as through the usual
ways tummy bugs spread.
"Norovirus has been described as the Ferrari of the virus
world because it is so infectious and can spread so quickly.
I take my hat off to any rest home that can control an
outbreak of norovirus," he said.
Norovirus symptoms are mainly vomiting and diarrhoea, stomach
pains, aching muscles, feeling off colour and a headache that
usually lasted for a couple of days. He said people with
symptoms of gastroenteritis were advised to stay away from
other people and see a doctor if the symptoms were severe or
the illness did not ease after two days.
There was no treatment for norovirus other than to let the
illness take its course and stay hydrated by drinking
The most important way of preventing spread was thorough hand
hygiene after going to the toilet and before preparing food.
There were more than a million cases of the new strain in the
UK last year.
- Mike Dinsdale of the Northern Advocate