Recently, public health has received reports of more people than expected who are seeking health care with gastroenteritis "stomach flu" in the community. A virus can cause your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed (acute gastroenteritis). This leads you to have stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and to throw up.
Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes about 21 million illnesses and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths. Anyone can be infected with Norovirus and get sick. You can also have Norovirus illness many times in your life. Norovirus illness can be serious, especially for young children and older adults.
Norovirus is very contagious. It passes easily from person to person. You can get Norovirus from an infected person who can have millions of bacteria in one episode of diarrhea. Coming in contact with contaminated food or water or touching contaminated surfaces can cause you to become sick.
According to the CDC, the best way to help prevent Norovirus is to practice proper hand washing and general cleanliness. The following are some tips that can keep you from becoming infected or from spreading the virus to someone else.
Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully, 20 seconds of lather, with soap and rinse with water. Don't forget to dry. The Norovirus can be found in your vomit or stool even before you begin to feel sick. The virus can stay in your stool for 2 weeks or more after you feel better. Therefore, it is important to continue washing your hands often during this time.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. However, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.
Food Handling: Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Be aware that Noroviruses are hard to kill. They can survive temperatures as high as 140°F and the quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with Norovirus should be thrown out. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others who are sick for at least 2 to 3 days after you recover. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and daycares where they may expose people to Norovirus. Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: If possible and practical it is best for a sick adult to clean up after themselves. After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000 – 5000 ppm (5 – 25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water). It is important for this solution to mixed fresh every 24 hours. You may use a disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Keep your hands away from your face, nose and mouth while cleaning and until you have thoroughly washed them.
Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—without shaking them—to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and machine dry them.