• By Lynne Mitchell
  • Posted Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Prevent Norovirus (Stomach Flu)

Noroviruses are a group of viruses called “Norwalk-like viruses.” Norovirus affects the stomach and intestines, causing an illness called gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu.” This “stomach flu” is not related to the flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

Noroviruses are very contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Particular care should be taken with young children in diapers who may have diarrhea.

People infected with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least 3 days after recovery. Some people may be contagious for as long as 2 weeks after recovery. Therefore, it is particularly important for people to use good hand washing and other hygienic practices after they have recently recovered from norovirus illness.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. Symptoms of norovirus illness usually begin about 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus, but they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.

Some people may also experience low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick and vomit many times a day, but most people get better within 1 or 2 days. Be sure to drink enough liquid to avoid dehydration. Dehydration is usually only seen among the very young, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

How do people get noroviruses?

Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people. People can become infected with the virus in several ways, including:

  • eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus;
  • touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth;
  • having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill).

Currently, there is no antiviral medication that works against norovirus and there is no vaccine to prevent infection. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics. This is because antibiotics work to fight bacteria and not viruses.

Can norovirus infections be prevented?

You can decrease your chance of coming in contact with noroviruses by following these preventive steps:

  • WASH YOUR HANDS with soap and warm water. Especially after toilet visits, changing diapers and before eating or preparing food. Research shows that the alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not be all that effective against the virus causing stomach flu.
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
  • Flush or discard any vomit and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.

Outbreaks of norovirus have taken place in restaurants, cruise ships, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, banquet halls, summer camps, and family dinners – in other words, places where often people have consumed water and/or food prepared or handled by others. It is estimated that as many as half of all food-related outbreaks of illness may be caused by norovirus. In many of these cases, sick food handlers were thought to be implicated.

Frequent hand washing key to stopping the spread of infectious illnesses like norovirus, the common cold, and the flu.

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