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2016 Dec

Understanding Noroviruses

Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that can cause gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis), which is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This leads to cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. The virus causes many people to become ill with vomiting and diarrhea each year. You can help protect yourself and others by washing your hands often and following simple tips to stay healthy.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year norovirus causes 19 to 21 million illnesses, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations. and 570 to 800 deaths. Anyone can get infected with norovirus, and you can get it more than once. It is estimated that a person will get norovirus about five times during his or her lifetime. Many people usually get sick with norovirus in cooler months, especially from November to April.

Common symptoms of norovirus include cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Less common symptoms include low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Norovirus spreads quickly. It is found in the vomit and stool of infected people. You can get it by:

• Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.

• Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.

• Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus, for example, when caring for someone with norovirus or sharing foods or eating utensils with them.

People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick and for the first few days after they recover. Some people may be contagious for even longer. There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection or drug to treat sick people. 

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself and your family from 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 or preparing food. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can help reduce the number of germs on your hands, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.

• Take care in the kitchen - Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating. People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for at least 2 days after they recover from their illness. 

• Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces - After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.

• Wash laundry thoroughly - Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—try not to shake them —to avoid spreading virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. Wash soiled items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dry.

Norovirus spreads quickly from person to person in enclosed places like nursing homes, daycare centers, schools, and cruise ships. It is also a major cause of outbreaks in restaurants and catered-meal settings if contaminated food is served.

You may hear norovirus illness called “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.” Norovirus can cause foodborne illness, as can other germs and chemicals. Norovirus illness is not related to the flu (influenza). Though they may share some of the same symptoms, the flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

For most people norovirus illness is not serious and they get better in 1 to 3 days. But it can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions.

There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection.

If you have norovirus illness, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea. This will help prevent dehydration.

Sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol can help with mild dehydration. But, these drinks may not replace important nutrients and minerals. Oral rehydration fluids that you can get over the counter are most helpful for mild dehydration.

Dehydration can lead to serious problems. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization for treatment with fluids given through your vein (intravenous or IV fluids). If you think you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated, call the doctor.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

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