Viruses, single-celled organisms that cause disease, are always harmful and never helpful. The most common viruses you can get from food are Hepatitis A and calicivirus, or Norwalk-like virus. Most foodborne viruses occur from home preparation rather than in restaurants, because restaurants have stringent hygiene procedures for their workers to follow. Viruses do not have a cure but can be prevented with proper hygiene such as regular hand washing.
Non-Foodborne Illnesses (Stomach Flu)
The most common non-foodborne illness that causes gastrointestinal distress is the Norovirus. It used to be called the "cruise ship virus" because people on cruise ships contracted it due to sharing close quarters with a lot of people. Viruses spread fast in areas that have a lot of people, such as cruise ships and dormitory rooms.
The single most important way to prevent foodborne and non-foodborne viruses is hand washing. Hands should be washed with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds, scrubbing hands together vigorously, after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Use medium temperature running water and turn off the sink with a paper towel so that you do not recontaminate the hands by touching the faucet. Using a hand sanitizer is not a substitute for hand washing. Hand sanitizer can actually deter people from hand washing, so it should only be used if soap and water is not available.
Foodborne and non-foodborne virus symptoms are similar and include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. Most viruses last a few days and leave your system on their own. There is no cure for foodborne and non-foodborne viruses, but some medication may abate the symptoms, which can be severe.
The best way protect yourself from viruses is to wash hands often and thoroughly, especially before you cook and eat food. Also, pay attention to the quality of the food you eat. Beware of seafood and shellfish that may have been at room temperature or stale. The good news is that most foodborne and non-foodborne viruses are not life-threatening. You will need a few days to recover, and you will likely miss some time at work or school.