Norovirus, a common but sometimes misunderstood stomach bug, is circulating in several communities around the state, according to reports received by the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
Norovirus, also sometimes described as the “cruise ship virus,” is spread when people eat or drink contaminated food and beverages, touch surfaces contaminated with the virus or through close contact with someone who is already sick. “This virus is very contagious and can survive for a long time,” said Tiffany Lupcho, WDH surveillance epidemiologist.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes norovirus is the nation’s most common source of gastrointestinal illness. An estimated 19-21 million people get sick with norovirus each year. WDH currently has reports of increased norovirus activity in Wyoming
“But it’s not just limited to cruise ships,” Lupcho said. “Norovirus can spread in many different settings, including in our homes.”
Lupcho said about half of foodborne illness cases are due to norovirus. “Many people automatically assume their symptoms are due to ‘spoiled food’ from the last restaurant they visited,” she said. “What happens more often is people get sick when they eat food or drink beverages that have been contaminated by someone else who is ill whether at home or in a restaurant, school or assisted living facility.”
“If an ill food handler, for example, touches food, utensils or even just a door knob after experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, we may see a restaurant-related outbreak,” Lupcho said. “Norovirus also spreads easily in settings where a lot of people are concentrated together.”
“While illness caused by norovirus can happen any time of year, it is seen in Wyoming most often during winter and spring,” Lupcho said.
People who are sick with norovirus may experience nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue and dehydration. A rapid onset of illness often begins between 12 to 48 hours after a person has been exposed to the virus. The symptoms usually last from one to three days and go away without causing long-term problems. However, this illness can be serious in those who become severely dehydrated. Infants, young children, immune compromised persons, and persons who are unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at higher risk for dehydration and may need hospitalization.
Steps to help prevent illness recommended by WDH include:
· Frequently wash hands, especially after using the restroom, after changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
· If ill, stay home from work and school, especially if employed in food-handling, healthcare, or child care.
· Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea by using a solution of one cup household bleach per 1 gallon of water and letting the solution sit for one minute. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions.
· Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
· Flush or discard any vomit and/or poop in the toilet and make sure the surrounding area is kept clean.
· Ill persons should take extra care to avoid the possible spread of the virus to others, by minimizing contact with other persons while ill and practicing good hygiene.