The Norovirus, a particularly heinous stomach bug that causes stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, is hitting our nation hard. A new strain called GII.4 Sydney was identified in Australia last March, and made its way to the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reporting outbreaks in 47 out of 50 states.
Unlike the flu which spreads through the air, Norovirus is highly contagious and easily transmitted by those infected to surfaces and foods. Anyone can catch the Norovirus, but the disease can be especially serious in young children and older adults because they’re the most susceptible to dehydration and malnutrition.
With odds like this, it’s important to recognize the symptoms, know how to manage it and prevent it from spreading.
What are the symptoms?
Norovirus comes on fast and furious, and you’re contagious from the moment you begin feeling sick until at least 2 to 3 days after you recover. Typical symptoms include nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include:
- low-grade fever
- chills, clammy skin, or sweating
- muscle aches or joint stiffness
How Do You Diagnose & Treat Norovirus?
You can go to your doctor for a stool test to confirm that you’re infected, but unfortunately there’s no vaccine for this illness or a drug to lessen its effects.
If your household gets zapped by this icky virus, the best thing to do is load up on fluids. Stay hydrated by drinking water and liquids that have a mix of water, sugar, and electrolytes. For babies, stick with breast milk, formula, and a rehydration solution like Pedialyte—which is also perfect for toddlers. Big kids can have juice, water, or sports drinks like Gatorade. Popsicles, ice cubes, and Jell-O will also help them rehydrate. If your child shows signs of dehydration, call your doctor immediately.
After 24 hours you can begin a BRAT diet that consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. After about 12 hours, you can start easing back into your regular diet, but reintroduce foods carefully. Opt for crackers and pretzels over some greasy bacon or anything creamy! If symptoms persist after 48 hours, seek medical care.
Cleaning Up Properly Is Key to Preventing and/or Managing Outbreaks
– If you have the virus, don’t prepare food at all.
– Don’t hand-wash your dishes. Clean your dishes in the dishwasher instead of hand-washing them; the hotter water has a better shot at nuking the bug.
– Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Raw fruits and vegetables, as well as raw or undercooked oysters, have been implicated in some outbreaks.
– Wash laundry thoroughly. Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Use hot water and machine dry. Immediately wash clothes, towels or linens that may have come into contact with vomit or stool. (Opt for your washer’s longest hot water cycle and then machine-dry them.)
– Be vigilant about hand washing. Use soap and water, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food. If you don’t have soap around you can use hand sanitizer; but hand sanitizer shouldn’t substitute for soap since it cannot completely kill this virus.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a bleach-based household cleaner or use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
“If there is a silver lining to this predicament, it’s that proper hygiene is the best source of prevention,” says Dr. Scott Burger, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Doctors Express, a national urgent care provider. “We are urging people to be extra vigilant about washing their hands and cleaning off all surfaces with bleach products.”
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