Steps to prevent the spread of norovirus

It is important to clean properly to prevent the rapid spread of norovirus.

Norovirus is a pathogen, or “bug,” that is highly contagious. It can spread very rapidly because it can spread through the air easily to food and surfaces. Only a very small amount of it is necessary to make someone ill. Most outbreaks happen from November to May, during what is known as “flu season.” Knowing how it is spread and how to kill norovirus are important in preventing an outbreak.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness, accounting for more than 50 percent of food-related outbreaks. Food is just one medium that spreads the bacteria, it is also spread largly from person to person and by contact with surfaces where the virus is sitting – for example, a door handle or table.

The symptoms of norovirus are much like that of the stomach flu: diarrhea, vomiting, stomach ache, fever, body aches and headache. Once someone is exposed, symptoms can occur very rapidly – in as little as 30 minutes, but can also take up to 48 hours. Dehydration can develop following onset of infection, so it is important to rehydrate and see a medical professional if you think you are becoming severely dehydrated.

Knowing how to clean is very important to prevent the bacteria from spreading, as the virus can survive on surfaces for up to a week and is somewhat resistant to general cleaning.

Having tools on hand at locations where outbreaks may occur, such as child-care facilities, nursing homes, and foodservice establishments can be very effective in preventing the spread of this highly contagious virus. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension has developed a toolkit for cleaning up after a spill or outbreak, and recommends creating a “Barf Bucket” that includes the following:

Some items are for your protection (Personal Protection Equipment or PPE):

  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Gown or apron
  • Shoe covers
  • Cleaning supplies:
    • Liquid-spill absorbant material like cat litter
    • Disposable flat-edge scoop, shovel or dustpan
    • Bucket
    • Spray bottle of disinfectant: see the Environmental Protection Agency for acceptable products
    • Paper towels
    • Liquid soap
    • Garbage bags for double bagging
    • Designated mop

To clean and prevent the spread of the virus:

  • Stop everything
  • Move others, especially children, to a different room
  • Wash hands and initiate clean-up:
    • Put on the personal protective equipment
    • If the surface can handle disinfectant, spray it on the “spill”
    • Put absorbant material on the spill and clean up with tools (scoop/paper towels/mop)
    • Consider changing gloves between tasks
    • Wash the area with soap/water. Be sure to clean 25 feet all around the area of the spill.
    • Follow up with disinfectant, be sure to leave on for the recommended contact time to kill the virus.
    • Dispose of waste in an outdoor receptacle
    • Wash hands
    • Keep area contained for 2 hours
    • Throw out food or anything that may not be able to be sanitized within 25 feet of the vomiting episode, as this is how far the virus can travel.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that all follow safe food handling, and has educational opportunities to learn more about food safety, including safe food handling for child care providers, as well as other programs for youth. 

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