Norovirus, the “Stomach Bug”
Norovirus (better known as the “stomach bug”) has been sweeping through Maryland. Countless cases of severe vomiting and diarrhea have taken down entire families, schools and businesses. In fact, several Maryland schools have had to close as a result of this extremely contagious illness. Find out what “stomach flu” is and how to avoid becoming a victim.
Quick Norovirus Facts
• Norovirus spreads easily from person to person.
• Norovirus infects around 20 million people each year
• 70,000 hospitalized per year
• 800 people killed each year
• Violent vomiting can send small particles of norovirus into the air
It loves the cold weather:
• People congregating closer together, indoors.
• Cold temperature allows the virus to live longer on surfaces.
• The real name for the disease it causes is “viral gastroenteritis”
So how does the CDC’s tracking this year compare to other years?
This year norovirus set a new record for December/January. Although the incidence have gone down slightly, it is important to note that the peak of the season usually occurs around March. And if this year is as bad as 2014-2015, we could be in for a very rough March. In fact, the peak in December, when it seems like everyone in Anne Arundel County was sick, was only half of what might eventually be our peak in March. Therefore, the most important thing we can do, as a community, is to focus on prevention.
Norovirus spreads quickly. According to the CDC, here is how you can get it:
• 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 to 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.
Most people have no idea they are still contagious because they feel 100% better. Therefore, the best way to avoid getting the stomach bug is good old fashioned hand washing.
Learn how to protect yourself and your family by following a few simple steps. No one wants to get this awful illness, so make these eight steps part of your winter routine:
• Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
• Avoid contaminated food and water.
• Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
• Cook seafood thoroughly.
• Dispose of vomit and fecal matter carefully, to avoid spreading norovirus by air. Soak up material with disposable towels, using minimal agitation, and place them in plastic disposal bags.
• Disinfect virus-contaminated areas with a chlorine bleach solution. Wear gloves.
• Stay home from work, especially if your job involves handling food.
• You may be contagious as long as three days after your symptoms end.
• Children should stay home from school or day care.
• Avoid traveling until signs and symptoms have ended.
I Had It. Am I Immune?
Unfortunately, having the infection once does not mean you can’t get it again. There are a lot of different types of noroviruses. Even if you develop immunity to one kind of norovirus, nobody knows how long that immunity lasts. Currently there is no vaccine available.
If you have been experiencing nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, please see your doctor.