Wash your hands to avoid the norovirus this winter
Avoiding illness through the winter is a major goal for all of us. One of the best ways to assure this is to practice good hand washing. Many illnesses are transmitted because of the lack of this simple precaution. One example is norovirus.
Norovirus is a major cause of gastrointestinal illness each year. Symptoms of this virus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and low-grade fever. Although sometimes called the “stomach flu,” noroviruses are not the same as influenza. The illness lasts for a few days and victims usually recover completely with no long-term health effects. If ill, the most important thing to do is keep drinking fluids. The most common health complication from norovirus illness is dehydration.
Noroviruses are very contagious and spread easily from person to person. They are most commonly spread through the fecal-oral route, either by consumption of food or water contaminated with stool or by direct person-to-person spread. The virus can also be spread by contact with objects contaminated with stool. If a person vomits, this may result in the spread of the virus through the air landing on surfaces or entering the mouth and being swallowed.
“Anyone with diarrhea or vomiting in the last few days should not be handling food items,” said Cindy Litchfield, RN, Henry County Community Health. “This rule is important no matter if you’re cooking for two or 200, whether it’s a regular family meal or at a restaurant. Norovirus can also be spread when people fail to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and proceed to prepare food.”
Outbreaks of norovirus have also been associated with drinking water and recreational water (swimming ponds, beaches) when people ingest contaminated water. Anyone who is ill with diarrhea, vomiting, or fever should not work with food, the elderly, in healthcare or in childcare. Food recently prepared by this person should be discarded.
There is no immunization that protects against norovirus. The best advice is frequent hand washing.