A norovirus is a small virus that contains RNA and is surrounded by a protein coating. By sequencing the RNA, scientists have discovered that there are many different types of norovirus. Originally, strains were named based on the city in which they were first identified. Thus, one common strain used to be called Norwalk virus. Based on genetic typing, we now know that there are at least 25 different strains of norovirus that affect humans. The RNA genome in noroviruses easily mutates to produce new norovirus types.
Norovirus infection is the most common cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the U.S. Although some people call this the "stomach flu," norovirus is not related to the influenza virus. According to statistics from the CDC, there are 21 million cases of norovirus infection annually in the U.S., of which one-quarter are related to food-borne outbreaks. Outbreaks occur throughout the year but are more common in the winter months. There is no specific treatment for norovirus. Fortunately, the disease is self-limited and simple supportive measures are sufficient to care for most people unless they become dehydrated. Outbreaks can occur almost anywhere in the world. In 2012, a new strain named GII.4 Sydney was identified. Since the first outbreak, the virus was quickly detected in New Zealand, France, and the U.S. It has caused about half of the norovirus infections detected in 2012-2013 in the U.S. A new outbreak of norovirus occurred at Yellowstone National Park, causing illness in about 200 visitors and camp employees in June 2013.