Take precautions to check spread of norovirus

Highly contagious virus causes nausea, vomiting

December 09, 2015
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Reports of a norovirus outbreak at Chapman University are a timely reminder that this foodborne-disease is highly contagious and requires precautions to keep it from spreading. It has sickened up to 50 Chapman students since Dec. 2.

“Norovirus is the most common form of gastroenteritis – inflammation of the stomach and intestines – in the U.S. and is one of the most contagious viruses around,” said Dr. Shruti Gohil, associate medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at UC Irvine Medical Center.

“If you think you might have norovirus, in addition to seeing your doctor, be sure to keep others safe by keeping your hands and the surfaces you touch clean, and minimize physical contact with others until you have recovered,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 million cases of norovirus are reported annually. Common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea and stomach pain. Other symptoms may include fever, headache and body aches.

A person usually develops symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. Most people with norovirus illness get better within 1 to 3 days.

“Most patients recover within a few days,” Gohil said. “Until then, drinking lots of fluids and keeping up your electrolytes will help support your recovery.”

The CDC suggests the following steps to help prevent the spread of norovirus:

Practice proper hand hygiene

  • Wash your hands carefully with soap and water— especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and always before eating, preparing, or handling food.
  • Noroviruses can be found in your vomit or stool even before you start feeling sick. The virus can stay in your stool for 2 weeks or more after you feel better. So, it is important to continue washing your hands often during this time.
  • 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.

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 and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish.
  • Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
  • Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.
  • When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others who are sick
  • You should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while you are sick and for at least 2 days after symptoms stop. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and daycares where they may expose people to norovirus.

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

  • After vomiting 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 per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wash laundry thoroughly

Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool (feces). You should:

  • Handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
  • Wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, and
  • Wash the items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them.

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