I hesitate to introduce such an unsavory topic as food poisoning, but a recent outbreak of Norovirus at a Hilton hotel
near Dulles airport compels me to do so. If you're like me, your biggest travel fear is falling sick, particularly on an airplane, train or cruise-ship, where the bathroom facilities typically leave a lot to be desired. Many of our fears center on food that's undercooked or served past its expiration date. But norovirus poses a unique threat. It's transmitted from employee (whether chef or server) to customer via the improper handling of food. In a classic case, the person preparing the food fails to wash his hands after using the bathroom, and then contaminates the food he's preparing with the virus. In the case of Norovirus, the preparer needn't be sick; he may be a mere--and yet mere is not the right word!--carrier of the virus.
More so than most forms of food poisoning, Norovirus is highly infectious; it explodes through a population. In this Hilton example, over a hundred people at the hotel fell sick in a short space of time--forcing a shut-down and the redirecting of guests to nearby accommodations. Norovirus also made a recent appearance at an Olive Garden in Indianapolis, sickening 370 people. Although it passes quickly, the virus generates projectile vomiting, diarrhea and, if one isn't careful, dehydration.
Yours truly knows Norovirus firsthand. A couple years ago I was socializing at an evening wine and cheese when I began to feel quite sick--seized by stomach cramps and a growing pressure in my chest and throat. I escaped the party and made it home just in time to begin a horrendous stretch of vomiting that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, when, afflicted with cramps so bad I could barely walk, I awakened my roommate Kristen, who kindly and dutifully drove me to the emergency room, where I convalesced thanks to the restorative power of intravenous rehydration. Unfortunately, the projectile vomiting--and in particular, the vomiting of red wine--inflamed my esophageal lining and gave me an overnight case of acid reflux disease that plagues me to this day, albeit in attenuated form. The health department later determined, after surveying scores of other students who fell sick, that our vomiting owed to Norovirus transmitted via salsa at a Mexican restaurant. Needless to say I haven't returned to that establishment.
Thankfully I was near home when the nefarious Norovirus inflicted its damage. I shudder to think how I might have felt had the cramps hit me on a long-distance flight or a week-long cruise (Norovirus is famous for spreading like wildfire through cruise ships). When feasible, you might consider eating at home on the day before you travel (Norovirus usually takes 24-36 hours to replicate sufficiently to cause illness) and packing your food for the journey. Peanut butter sandwiches work well, as do crackers, chocolate bars, dried fruit and cereal bars. Not the most glamorous fare, I concede, but surely preferable to being bent over an under-sized toilet on a turboprop making a mess of things as a rambunctious child and his impatient mother stand outside, tapping on the door and asking, "what's taking him so long in there?"