Dec. 23, 2014—Each year, up to 21 million people get sick from norovirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis, and suffer from symptoms like cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Many refer to this illness as the stomach flu—although it is unrelated to the influenza virus. Winter is the prime season for norovirus, and holiday gatherings plus more time spent in close quarters can increase your risk for catching the bug.
Most people will recover from norovirus within a few days. But since it has no treatment and is highly contagious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stressing the importance of preventing the spread of norovirus.
How to prevent norovirus
Norovirus can be transmitted by coming into contact with contaminated foods, drinks or surfaces or by having close personal contact with someone who is already infected.
The virus spreads quickly, and it only takes a very small amount to make people sick. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:
- Wash your hands often. Scrub for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water after using the toilet or changing a diaper and before eating, handling or preparing food.
- Wash laundry thoroughly. Immediately wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Wear rubber gloves while handling soiled items, and wash items with detergent for the maximum cycle length. Wash your hands afterward.
- Disinfect contaminated surfaces. After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of between 5 and 25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water to disinfect surfaces.
- Avoiding prepping food while sick. Don’t prepare food for others while you have norovirus and for 2 to 3 days after you recover. Keep sick children away from food prep areas.
- Keep food clean. Wash fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them, and cook oysters and shellfish thoroughly (above 140 degrees). If you suspect that food may be contaminated with norovirus, throw it out.
Dealing with norovirus
Norovirus usually isn’t serious, and most people recover within 3 days. However, it can be serious in young children, the elderly and those with health conditions, and it has the potential to cause severe dehydration. If you or someone you’re caring for has norovirus and is dehydrated, call your healthcare provider.