So you’ve got norovirus (the stomach flu), now what?

What you can do to help prevent the spread of norovirus.

February and March are possibly my two least-favorite months of the year for many reasons, but one of them is, simply put, norovirus. I don’t know what it is about these two months, but it seems like just about everyone is sick. This year is no different, and it also seems like the 2016 strain of norovirus is a doozey! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to what most people call “the stomach flu.”

Although norovirus is not the flu (influenza) at all, it is still mistakenly referred to as the flu in many places. Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that effects the gastrointestinal tract of humans. It can be spread through many avenues such as food, water, utensils, surfaces, cleaning up after sick people; basically any place that was touched (or vomited on) by someone who is/was sick is potentially contaminated with millions of noro cells, and it takes as little as five to infect a person. It has been the culprit of many recent illness outbreaks at universities, hospitals, conference centers, and schools across the country over the past several weeks. Have you or your family succumbed to norovirus recently? If so, you have a responsibility to prevent passing it on to others. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips to help prevent the spread of norovirus from you and your family to others:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds) with warm water and soap before and after handling food, after cleaning up after sick people, and after using the bathroom.
  • Make sure to clean AND disinfect surfaces, clothing and bedding that has come in contact with a Norovirus- infected person. Household bleach is recommended for this. Follow the instructions on the bottle for disinfecting.
  • Isolate sick family members. While this may be hard to do, minimizing the number of surfaces and areas they touch can drastically reduce the spread to others.
  • Never prepare food if you are sick. Norovirus can’t be cooked out of food at normal cooking temperatures like some other food-borne illnesses. Once noro cells are in food or on the touch surfaces of utensils, they are there, and can be consumed by the next victim.
  • Avoid using family/community items such as phones, computers, tablets, remotes, etc.  The surfaces of these items are difficult to clean and could easily harbor virus cells that could be picked up by later users. If they are used by a sick person, try to disinfect the surface with the recommended bleach solution.
  • Stay home if you are sick. It may be a hardship to miss work or have your kids miss school, but try to stay home at least 48 hours beyond your last symptom, as norovirus can still be passed on easily even if you’re not symptomatic anymore.

Many people misunderstand the severity of norovirus and simply pass it off as a “stomach bug” and a temporary inconvenience. While average adults usually move on from the experience in a few days, norovirus does cause around 800 fatalities in children and adults every year. 

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