A case study released today linking a stomach virus outbreak to a contaminated plastic bag left in a bathroom is a precautionary reminder: objects that have been in contact with a sick person--especially in a bathroom--need to be disinfected.
In 2010, a group of 9 teenage girls attending a soccer tournament in Washington became infected with the norovirus bug—a leading cause of gastroenteritis. The Oregon Public Health Division was notified, and the resulting investigation found that the outbreak started when the first infected teenager spent the night getting sick in a hotel bathroom where the reusable plastic bag in question was stored.
Although this individual left early and had no direct contact with the other girls, the reusable plastic bag, which was holding cookies, chips, and grapes, was taken to the other girls for lunch the following day (eww!).
"The data indicate that virus aerosolized within the hotel bathroom settled upon the grocery bag and its contents, and it was touching the bag and consumption of the contents that led to the outbreak."
The study was unable to separately analzye the impacts of touching the bag versus eating the food, but stated that both were "strongly associated with illness." It concluded,
"Although we certainly recommend not storing food in bathrooms, it is more important to emphasize that areas where aerosol exposures may have occurred should be thoroughly disinfected; this includes not only exposed surfaces but also objects in the environment[…]"