Your health: What is norovirus, and how can we protect ourselves?
TRUCKEE, Calif. — Recent reports associating norovirus with illnesses at the Chipotle Restaurant in California and surrounding states have led regional environmental and public health departments to increase awareness through education of the public and food service industry.
Norovirus is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines), which leads to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Norovirus is not related to the flu (influenza) even though the symptoms are similar, the flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.
Norovirus causes approximately 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Norovirus spreads very easily and very quickly, as it only takes a very small amount of norovirus particles to make you sick. Norovirus illness can spread by having direct contact with an infected person while caring for them; eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus, putting your fingers in your mouth after touching countertops or surfaces that may have vomit droplets; and sharing utensils or cups with an individual that is infected with Norovirus.
What can I do to prevent getting norovirus?
1. Practice proper hand hygiene: Always wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers, before eating, preparing or handling food. Remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to proper hand washing, but should not be used as a substitute for hand washing.
2. Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly: Noroviruses are fairly resistant as they can survive cooking temperatures as high as 140 degrees and can also survive the quick steaming processes used for cooking shellfish.
3. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others: One should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while sick with the Norovirus illness and for at least 2 to 3 days after you recover.
4. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an incident of vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean the contaminated surfaces. Use chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1,000-5,000 ppm (5-25 tablespoons of household bleach, or 5.25 percent per gallon) of water OR a disinfectant that is registered effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
5. Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with stool (feces) or vomit. Handle the soiled items carefully as to not contaminate other surfaces or areas and wash items with detergent at the maximum available wash cycle length (time) then machine dry. Always wash your hands after handling soiled items.
Prevention is always the best defense and remember to wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food for consumption. More information regarding norovirus illness can be found at http://www.cdc.gov or http://www.fda.gov.
This article was submitted by the Nevada County Department of Public Health. Visit mynevadacounty.com to learn more.