It’s the talk of schools, offices and homes along the Eastern seaboard: The dreaded “stomach bug” and norovirus, the primary cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States.
Norovirus that causes diarrhea and vomiting is sometimes accompanied by a fever and body aches. The virus spreads quickly by contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface, eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated liquids. Norovirus particles can even float through the air and settle on surfaces, spreading contamination. You are contagious not only during your norovirus illness, but also during the first days of recovery.
Most norovirus outbreaks start in the food-service industry, where infected workers touch with their bare hands raw fruits, vegetables and other ready-to-eat foods. (Chipotle Mexican Grill last year blamed a norovirus outbreak on infected workers.) Ready-to-eat foods also can arrive at a restaurant contaminated with norovirus. The virus often spreads quickly in enclosed places like schools, business offices, daycare centers, nursing homes and cruise ships. These outbreaks typically occur between November and April.
“Let’s face it,” says Dr. Bieluch. “It’s wintertime and people are clustered together and it’s perfect grounds for spread of infections like this.”
Dr. Bieluch says Connecticut has not been hit hard yet with norovirus, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects cases to spike nationally in February and March.
Here are few simple ways to avoid norovirus:
- Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers and prior to handling food.
- Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly.
- When sick, do NOT prepare and serve food for others for at least two days after symptoms stop. This is particularly important for food-service workers.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
- Wash laundry thoroughly.
Noroviruses are not treatable using antibiotics or current antivirals. People who are generally healthy need to ride it out until the symptoms subside. The young, the old and those with underlying chronic health issues may need extra attention if they become ill with norovirus.
If you or your family members are hit by the bug, here are some recommended actions:
- Stay hydrated. Ice chips are a great start, and clear liquids — water, juices or electrolyte-rich drinks. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these add to the dehydration danger.
- When you are able to start eating, choose foods that are easy on the stomach. Bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast (BRAT) are a good start. Avoid foods high in sugar and fat. Your stomach may not be able to handle them right away.
Call your physician or go to an urgent-care facility if you experience:
- Fever over 102 degrees.
- Vomiting or diarrhea for three days or longer.
- Failure to produce urine or tears.
Need a primary care provider? Contact Hartford HealthCare Medical Group.