Dot Wordsworth

Norovirus

‘I wandered home ’tween twelve and one,’ sang my husband, waving his head from side to side in the fond belief that it made him look more like Olivia Newton-John, ‘I cried, “My God, what have I done?” ’

I was feeling a little queasy to start with, and this did not help. The occasion, if not excuse, for my husband’s rendition of Banks of the Ohio was my having succumbed to a member of the Norovirus genus. It takes its name from Norwalk (pop. 17,012) in Ohio.

Norwalk, Ohio, is named after Norwalk, Connecticut, which the British set on fire in 1779. The householders were compensated with land south of Lake Erie, where the village, later city, of Norwalk, Ohio, grew up. Thus an Ohio city in a county named after the Huron (Wyandot) people, who spoke an Iroquoian language, bears a name from an eastern Algonquian language. So Norwalk is not by origin (as it could be taken for) an English word.

Anyway, the Ohio river has nothing to do with Norwalk, indeed it turns its back on it, running manfully towards Cairo, Illinois (pop. 2,831, down from 15,203 in 1920). Norwalk’s own river, the Huron, last year ran red, from spilt dye. But in October 1968, 150 of the 232 pupils at the Norwalk-Bronson Elementary School fell sick with gastroenteritis. The wee organism responsible was known at first as the Norwalk-Bronson agent. In 1972 the round virus was seen under a microscope and became known as the Norwalk virus. It wasn’t until 2002 that Norovirus was fixed upon for the genus fashionably causing sickness on cruise ships.

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