Norovirus is going around right now. Norovirus, the Curse of Cruise Ships, the Destroyer of Dormitories, the Predator of Preschools, the Violator of Vacations, the Savager of Salad Bars. That norovirus.
“Norovirus gastroenteritis is pretty easy to recognize,” says Dr. Eileen Carpenter, physician at Spruce Internal Medicine. She continues, “People are miserable. They are vomiting and having diarrhea all at the same time, along with having fever and abdominal cramps. It goes on for about 5 days and spreads like wildfire in group situations.”
Obviously, you know to wash your hands after using the bathroom or caring for a sick person. You stay home from work if you’re sick yourself, and you don’t make it difficult for your employees to take sick days. You wash your hands before eating or handling food, you’re careful to keep raw and cooked food separate in the kitchen, and you don’t prepare food for other people when you’re sick.
However, norovirus can also go airborne when people vomit, meaning it will contaminate nearby surfaces that weren’t directly soiled by the vomit. People who touch those surfaces – like faucets, handles and doorknobs – can then spread it around after washing their hands. Because of this, it’s important to remember to wipe down surfaces in the bathroom after someone has been sick. To do this, you should wear gloves and use a bleach solution containing 5-25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water.
It’s hard to completely avoid getting an occasional bout of norovirus, but since the severity of the illness will depend in part on how large a dose of virus you were exposed to, you can still protect yourself by washing your own hands before you eat (or even before you touch your face). Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer when you may not be near a sink to wash.
Eating at restaurants is a concern, as you can’t know how careful the kitchen employees are about hand washing. Philadelphia makes restaurant inspections available online. While every restaurant may have occasional slip-ups, if you see a restaurant has been repeatedly cited for the same poor sanitary practices, there is a greater risk of norovirus transmission in food.
In your own kitchen, use the best practice of cooking food to at least 140°F to kill the virus.
And if you do come down with norovirus? Dr. Carpenter suggests that you sip on clear fluids all day to stay hydrated. “Even if it seems like nothing is staying in you, you are still absorbing some of it. Drink fluids with sugar like juice or soda, and some with salt like broth,” she says. It’s also important to stay home and get rest. Also, if you’re diabetic, check your blood sugars more frequently and keep in touch with your doctor.
If you get norovirus, you may be highly contagious for a few days, but you can still be contagious for up to two weeks after your sickness ends.
Unfortunately, getting norovirus once doesn’t provide immunity from getting it again, so even if you do get this illness, make sure you take precautionary measures to keep yourself safe in the future.
While norovirus will go away on its own, you should seek medical attention if standing up causes you to feel weak or light headed, as this may mean that you are losing fluid faster than you can replace it. You should also call a physician if your diarrhea is bloody or tar-black color, or if your symptoms last longer than 5 days.