According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the noroviruses are the leader when it comes to nonbacterial gastroenteritis (some may call it the stomach flu, or food poisoning). As the warmer weather arrives (hopefully soon!) more and more people will be going on vacation either on cruises or other types of trips where they may find themselves exposed.
Routes of exposure to norovirus
Understanding how this virus spreads is important to prevention your exposure to it.
- Fecal to oral – this means that if an infected person has diarrhea and does not adequately wash their hands after using the bathroom, then essentially this virus shed in their stool can contaminate the environment every where they touch. This should give you more incentive than ever to want to make sure others wash their hands well!
- Vomit – pretty much what it sounds like. There may be an occasion where you are nearby to someone who is vomiting, or heaven forbid vomits on you or your clothes, and you could find yourself exposed to this virus. It would be very important to quickly and carefully get it off of you and then wash your hands very well. Be very careful around your face, and especially if you should have to clean your shirt, or remove it altogether.
- Aerosolization – it’s a long word that essentially means stuff floating in the air. This route of exposure is not uncommon with many different types of disease. To minimize the potential contamination of the bathroom and others, it would be prudent to close the lid of the toilet when you flush. When the toilet is flushed and the water is swirling down the drain there is a possibility of the virus to go airborne. It may float for several minutes and then land on surfaces all over the bathroom, similar to other diarrheal diseases. Closing the lid can minimize that effect so that others are not breathing it in, or touching as many contaminated surfaces. In fact a study done by Best, Sandoe, and Wilcox published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in 2012, makes these same recommendations for a diarrheal disease known as Clostridium difficile.
This bugger can make you really sick.
According to the CDC, symptoms of the norovirus include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting (sometimes at the same time as the diarrhea — an event I refer to as the bilateral spurts), stomach pain, and sometimes fever, headaches, and body aches. The virus can be found in your stool prior to your experiencing the illness. You are most infective to others when you are sick, and for three days after you recover. This is why food handlers are not allowed back to work before then if they are suspected of having a norovirus-related illness. Depending on your perspective, there is some good news. Generally, the active component of the infection lasts up to only 72 hours. Those hours may truly stink, but it is only 72 hours and maybe less, depending on your degree of exposure.
It is possible to get very dehydrated with this disease, and if you are unable to keep up with the fluid losses you should talk to your doctor. Especially vulnerable are the elderly and the very young. As we age our internal “dipstick” — that part of our brain that let’s us know whether we are getting low on fluids doesn’t work so well. The elderly can get dehydrated to a great degree before they feel they are in fact dehydrated. So it is important to make sure that they get enough fluids. There are many strains of norovirus, and getting one strain does not confer immunity against others. You can get norovirus many times over your lifetime as a result. So it’s a nasty little bug, indeed!
Stayed tuned for part 2! In the meantime if you want more information about using public bathrooms safely and how to wash your hands well, you can check out The Potty Prognosis, as well as the CDC’s website.