Spread holiday cheer not norovirus

Norovirus is currently the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. – practice good personal hygiene and avoid preparing food when sick.

December 5, 2017 - Author: Lisa Treiber, Michigan State University Extension and Cora Hickey Central Michigan University Public Health Student Intern

Norovirus is currently the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States and leads to about 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths each year. Most outbreaks occur in food service settings and symptoms can be more extreme among younger children and older adults. While outbreaks occur all year long, norovirus is seen to infect the most people during the winter, specifically from November to April.


Signs of norovirus are often mistaken for flu symptoms. These symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, fever, headache and body aches. Symptoms can start anywhere between 24 and 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. It is important to recognize these signs because ignoring them can lead to dehydration, especially in younger children, older adults, and people with other illnesses.

How norovirus is spread

Norovirus is extremely contagious and can be caught multiple times due to its many kinds of strains. Infection is caused by getting infected stool or vomit in your mouth.

Ways this can occur:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.
  • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth
  • Having contact with someone who is infected with norovirus (for example, caring for or sharing food or eating utensils with someone who is infected)
  • Consuming oysters that are harvested from contaminated water
  • Consuming fruits and vegetables that were contaminated in the field

Because of this, norovirus is likely to spread quickly in places such as daycare centers, nursing homes and cruise ships.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following to help prevent the spread of norovirus:

  • The best way to prevent being infected with norovirus is to thoroughly and properly wash your hands.
  • Along with your hands, it is important to properly wash all fruits and vegetables before consuming them.
  • Be sure to cook all oysters and shellfish thoroughly and throw out any food that may be contaminated with norovirus.
  • Keep anyone contaminated with norovirus out of the kitchen and away from where food is being handled or prepared.
  • Wait at least two days after symptoms stop before preparing food or providing healthcare to others.
  • Any surface that comes into contact with stool or vomit should be cleaned and disinfected immediately with a disinfectant that is registered effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Any items of clothing that may have become contaminated with stool or vomit should be removed and washed as soon as possible.

It is important to remember as enter the holiday season and gather together for potlucks, holiday meals and other food-related events that people who are infected can spread norovirus directly to others, or contaminate food or drinks they are preparing for other people. This virus can also survive on surfaces that have been contaminated. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to avoid preparing food if you are feeling sick (or experiencing vomiting or diarrhea symptoms). Help prevent the spread of this rapidly spreading virus by practicing good hygiene practices and keeping your food and family safe.

Tags: food & health, msu extension, safe food & water

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