Why Was the Reusable Bag Blamed for a Norovirus Outbreak?

The humble reusable bag is now a fashion statement, walking billboard, and so ubiquitous that there are even donation drives so you can pass them onto those who can’t afford to buy them. There’s nothing more satisfying than remembering to take your reusable bag on a trip to the store.

But recently, a reusable bag was blamed for the spread of a highly contagious virus.

Tim Barribeau at io9 points to an article in The Journal of Infectious Diseases of an investigation of a norovirus outbreak affecting nine participants of a girls’ soccer tournament in 2010. Four adult Oregonian chaperones and a group of 17 girls, aged 13-14, attended a soccer tournament in Washington, during which eight of them came down with the stomach flu.

When one of the girls began to feel ill she moved into a room with one of the chaperones. Soon after the vomiting and diarrhea occurred the girl and chaperone withdrew from the tournament -- but more people started to get sick after she left.

Researchers were able to pinpoint the spread of the virus to a reusable bag that held snacks (including grapes) and was kept in the bathroom the sick girl used. When the virus aerosolized it settled on various surfaces in the bathroom, including the bag. Everyone who came down with the stomach flu after the girl left had either eaten snacks from the bag, or handled the reusable bag itself.

After reading this, you might want to be more mindful as to where you set down your reusable bags in the future. And you might want to wash your stash of bags more often.

But when it comes down to it, how often do you wash a leather handbag or a backpack? The virus could just have easily spread from hands, the bottom of a shoe, or any other object that made its way through the contaminated bathroom.

Let's not use this as an excuse to do away with reusable bags completely.

Tags: Diseases | Food Safety | Fruits & Vegetables | Oregon | Reusability