Norovirus: Coming to a Meal or Surface Near You?
Take steps to protect yourself against this highly contagious illness
Norovirus is one of the more unpleasant viruses around. It’s known as the winter vomiting bug, and it's highly contagious. The virus causes the stomach or intestines to become inflamed, resulting in stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Norovirus is best known for making passengers on cruise ships wretched, but you can also get sick from it right here at home.
Related: Cruise Vacation? Have a Safe Trip!
It appears to have recently sickened 120 Boston College students who ate at a nearby Chipotle restaurant. And earlier this month it invaded a catered party at an office building in downtown Seattle, causing 200 of the 600 partygoers to fall ill, according to Reuters news service.
Investigators have not yet figured out where the Seattle outbreak started. "The source of this illness remains unclear, and we are as eager as anyone to learn precisely how and when it began," the catering company told Reuters.
Norovirus can be spread by an infected person who hasn’t thoroughly washed his or her hands after using the restroom or changing a diaper. You can catch it through contaminated foods, drinks and ice. You can also get infected by touching a contaminated doorknob or stapler or by taking care of someone who’s infected. It takes only 18 tiny virus particles to make someone sick.
Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne disease outbreaks and acute gastroenteritis (digestive tract irritation) in the United States, causing up to 21 million illnesses, 71,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths annually, according to the CDC.
To help prevent norovirus, the CDC recommends the following steps.
- Wash your hands carefully with soap and water after you use the toilet or change diapers.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before eating, preparing and handling food.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
- Cook shellfish thoroughly (noroviruses can survive temperatures up to 140 degrees F and the quick steaming process many people use to cook shellfish, the CDC warns).
- Keep sick babies and children away from areas where you’re preparing or handling food.
If you get sick with norovirus, clean any contaminated surfaces with a bleach/water solution (5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water), advises the CDC. Wear rubber gloves when handling contaminated clothes and linens, wash them with detergent on the longest cycle, then machine dry them.