A recent increase in reports of stomach illnesses and flu-like symptoms in several schools and daycare facilities in Washoe County has health officials reminding everyone of the importance of hand washing.
Diseases like influenza and norovirus are highly contagious, causing nausea, stomach aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. In rare instances, norovirus can be fatal, and influenza contributes to thousands of deaths per year.
But people can take preventative measures to protect themselves from these nasty viruses.
“There are three easy steps to protect yourself, family, and others from getting sick,” said Washoe County Interim District Health Officer Kevin Dick. “We’re reminding everyone to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly, especially after using the restroom. Clean all areas in your home and office where ill people have been, or where vomiting or diarrhea has occurred. And, stay home from work, school, or public places if you are sick.”
According to health officials, these three important measures can greatly reduce the occurrence of illness and spread of disease in the community:
1) Wash your hands frequently: Washing your hands is the most effective thing you can do to avoid catching many diseases and prevent passing them along to others. To wash properly you should wet hands with warm, running water; apply soap; rub hands together vigorously for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice); rinse hands well under running water; and, dry hands using a paper towel or air dryer.
Everyone should wash whenever they come into contact with body fluids (including vomit and saliva) or whenever they are visibly soiled. Wash before preparing and eating foods. Hands should be washed after using toilet facilities; changing diapers or helping a child at the toilet; blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing; touching raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs; handling an animal or animal waste; and, handling garbage. Finally people should wash before and after treating a cut or wound and tending to the sick.
2) Exclusion: Sick individuals should be excluded from school, work, and all public or social activities. The Health District has strict exclusion criteria for schools and restaurants when norovirus outbreaks occur, and health officials highly recommend voluntary self exclusion when you have the flu as well.
3) Environmental Cleaning: Sanitation requirements for schools and recommendations for households where vomiting or diarrhea has occurred is to clean the immediate and surrounding area with detergent and hot water prior to disinfecting the area with a mixture of ½ cup of bleach to a gallon of water. When vomiting, coughing, and sneezing occur viruses are aerosolized and can spread up to a 25-foot radius.
Therefore, disinfecting with the bleach solution needs to occur within that 25-foot radius, including any walls, furniture, or any other objects within that area. There are other approved cleaning products available, but check the label to make sure they list effectiveness against norovirus and/or influenza.