According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus infections are at a 12-month high.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is a highly contagious group of viruses currently circulating in the US.
Norovirus, sometimes called the “stomach flu,” typically causes gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Mild fever and aches are also possible. Some cases of the virus can become severe.
There are thousands of different types of noroviruses. It only takes a few virus particles of certain types to make someone sick. These particles are transmitted from contaminated hands, surfaces, food, and water.
Why is norovirus in the news?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus rates are at a 12-month high in the United States. Regionally, the Midwest and South had the highest average test positivity rates as of February 2023.
Most norovirus outbreaks in the U.S. occur between November and April. The U.S. experiences around 20 million cases annually, with nearly 110,000 hospitalizations and 900 deaths, mostly among those 65 and older.
What can you do to help prevent the spread of norovirus?
There is no treatment for norovirus. Instead, the CDC recommends the following five tips to help prevent infection and spread:
#1. Practice proper hand hygiene.
Always wash your hands carefully with soap and water after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before eating, preparing, or handling food.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing, but they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.
#2. Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly.
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them.
- Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 140°F. They can also survive the quick steaming processes often used to cook shellfish.
- Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
- Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is handled and prepared.
#3. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others.
You should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while sick and for at least 2 to 3 days after you recover. This also applies to people who are ill and work in schools, daycares, and other places where they may expose people to norovirus.
#4. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
#5. Wash laundry thoroughly.
Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool (feces). When handling contaminated laundry, remember to —
- Handle soiled items carefully without agitating them.
- Wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands afterward.
- Wash the soiled items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length, then machine dry them.
What should I do if I think I have norovirus?
According to the CDC, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from vomiting and diarrhea if you have norovirus illness. This will help prevent dehydration, which can lead to serious problems, especially for children and the elderly.
Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your vein (intravenous or IV fluids). Call your healthcare provider if you think you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated.
Most importantly, wash your hands and avoid contact with others while you are ill and for a few days afterward.
Norovirus is easily transmitted from infected people through virus particles from feces (poop) and vomit. Anything exposed to these particles can carry the virus, including contaminated surfaces, drinking and eating utensils, and laundry.
A variety of information is available on preventing and managing norovirus outbreaks in healthcare facilities, food service facilities, and other congregate settings, including summer camps.
If you want to know more about how to prevent or manage norovirus or other transmissible illnesses, visit the CDC online or contact your local health department for more information.