PhotoIt seems like shoppers can't keep up with the ever-changing warnings from studies and researchers. First, customers were told to immediately stop using plastic bags for environmental reasons and use reusable mesh bags. Some localities like Montgomery County, Maryland even charge customers for using plastic, paper, or any other old-school shopping receptacle.

The latest consumer warning, this one from an Oregon research group, suggests that reusable shopping bags can carry and pass along the dreadful and very painful stomach flu virus. It's not the first such warning. In April, a study found that only 15 percent of shoppers routinely wash their reusable shopping bags, thus creating a breeding zone for harmful bacteria. 

In June 2010, another study randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in the Los Angeles area, San Francisco, and Tucson and found significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even lead to death -- a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses.  

In the latest study, researchers explain that vomit and fecal virus particles can stick to the bag and reside there for long periods of time. This came about after a group of student soccer players became ill and possibly spread the virus through the reusable shopping bags they were carrying.

How it happened

Here's how the whole shopping bag stomach virus caper went down, according to the study:

One of the soccer players became suddenly ill while in a hotel room at an away game. She had with her a reusable shopping bag filled with food, and left the bag in the hotel room, while one of the coaches immediately drove the her home. While driving the soccer player home, the coach became sick too.

A second coach happened to retrieve the shopping bag to distribute the food items to the other players on the squad. Big mistake, as all of the other team members got sick right after as well.

Here's where the grocery bag comes in: The first soccer player that was ill, along with the coach who drove her home never came in contact with the rest of the team, as they were in separate areas of the hotel. The Oregon researchers believe the shopping bag could be the perpetuator in spreading the flu virus to everyone.

"Everyone has suspected that the noro virus can be transmitted this way, but they haven't been officially linked, said Kimberly Repp, an epidemiologist at Oregon Health and Sciences University.

But was it really the bag or the food? A fair question since we do not know how long the food items were sitting around, and exactly what type of food it was. But what adds a little more mystery to this plot is that not everyone ate the food. The coach who drove the sick player home didn't eat from the bag, but still got sick.

Whether all of this is enough to blame the shopping bag for actually passing the virus is still a long stretch, but at the very least it shows that the constant reuse of anything needs to be thoroughly cleaned and eventually replaced.

"As long as something can land on it, it can transmit the virus," cautioned Repp. "It doesn't matter what the substance is." The full study is published in the current edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.


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