Giving patients a swab test can help prevent the spread of this highly contagious viral infection.

By Colleen Travers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) norovirus is the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea from gastroenteritis among people living in the U.S. The virus causes 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis per year resulting in almost 2 million outpatient visits. Norovirus also causes 58 percent of all foodborne illness in the U.S., making it the leading viral cause and one that can cost up to $2 billion between healthcare expenses and time lost in the workplace combined. These numbers can increase across the board if a new strain of the virus is discovered, which can result in up to 50 percent more illness. As most gastroenterologists know, norovirus has a peak infection period between the months of November through April, but because of its nature to spread in population-heavy settings like restaurants, cruise ships, and schools it’s possible for an outbreak to happen at any time.

While there’s no antibiotic treatment that will ease the symptoms of norovirus, diagnosing norovirus in a patient is an important step in disease prevention for the masses. This is especially vital in protecting the elderly, who often have a weakened immune system and young children, as the CDC reports norovirus is responsible for one million pediatric medical visits each year.

By conducting a molecular genetic test, done by a swab sample in-office it’s now possible to take the guesswork out of whether a patient is suffering from norovirus or another viral infection. Gastrointestinal symptoms like pain, nausea, and fever can be a warning sign for several strains of viruses and having conclusive results that pinpoint the cause to be a strain of norovirus can help protect the larger population by advising the patient to stay home and avoid crowded areas to help prevent spreading the virus to others. Molecular testing can pinpoint other causes of viral infection, including rotavirus, sapovirus, astrovirus, and adenovirus, and this can help the physician share insight to the patient on what to expect for the severity and length of any gastrointestinal symptoms associated with each of these viruses. Stool samples can also be taken along with the swab test when needed to rule out any parasites, which may require antibiotics for treatment. Running both of these tests together simultaneously will help the physician get accurate results quicker than if done in isolation, which will result in faster treatment and recovery for the patient in many cases.

For more information on how to use molecular testing in diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal diseases as part of your practice based on medical necessity visit ASAP Lab for a list of all its testing services.