Research – Characteristics of Norovirus Food Poisoning Outbreaks in Korea in the 2000s

Journal of Food Protection


Norovirus food poisoning outbreaks in Korea (South) appeared in 2000s and have been increasing since then. We aimed to investigate the epidemiological features of norovirus food poisoning outbreaks in Korea over the past years (2002 ~ 2017), based on official food poisoning statistics and available reports, and to find their association with climate factors. Norovirus was the most common cause of food poisoning among known causative substances in Korea during the study period. More than one-third of the incidents occurred in group meal-service facilities, including school lunch programs. A few of these facilities used groundwater contaminated with noroviruses to wash / cook food, which contributed to outbreaks. Norovirus occurrences showed strong seasonality; cold and relatively dry winter air may help norovirus to flourish. Both norovirus genotypes GI and GII infectious to humans were detected, with GII becoming more prevalent than GI. According to our correlation analysis in connection with climate factors, average temperatures, the highest and lowest temperatures, precipitation, the number of rain days, and humidity showed a significant negative correlation with a monthly norovirus occurrence (p < 0.05). The lowest temperature and average temperature had higher coefficients of correlation, -0.377 and -0.376, respectively. The norovirus outbreaks in Korea showed complex etiological characteristics, although it more prevailed in wintertime, and are now considered as a major public health problem. The use of groundwater in group meal-service settings has a public health impact as well as norovirus concern, therefore groundwater used in food service facilities / business should be treated for safety.

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