It’s been a busy year for norovirus, a type of food poisoning that seems to be gallivanting all over the country. You probably remember this nasty ailment as being called the “Stomach flu,” and perhaps, if you’re like me, you remember your mom bringing you fizzy glasses of 7-up, because the 7-up settled your stomach. If you or your kids wind up with it, here are several tips to help get you through it.
What are viruses anyway? Well, weird doesn’t even come close to describing them. They seem like something that’s a cross between Frankenstein and Dracula. Like Frankenstein, they aren’t alive, and they can’t grow and multiply by themselves. Like Dracula, a virus has to find some way to enter a cell — either of an animal or a human — and then take over, according to News.Medical.Net.
That’s where you come in.
In order to get what it needs, the virus sends out itty-bitty particles that are 100 times smaller than a bacteria cell. We’re talking tiny here. The particles attack a cell and gain command. The next thing you know, the previously unconquered cell is producing even more virus particles. More and more cells are falling to the warring faction, and that means one thing:
You’re probably going to get sick.
So what are noroviruses and what do they do?
For one thing, noroviruses aren’t the stomach flu. Influenza is a type of respiratory virus. Instead, noroviruses are members of a group known as calici viruses and are well-known for causing gastroenteritis-inflammation of the stomach and intestines, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
In the U.S. each year, this obnoxious food poisoning bug sickens 19 million-21 million people and puts 56,000-71,000 in the hospital. Approximately 570-800 people die from this disease annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Indeed, this disease can be very serious for young children and older folks.
Now here’s where the icky part comes in. Most people become infected by getting stool or vomit in their mouths, noses, or eyes. How in the world does that happen? Well, by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus, perhaps due to the fact that the person preparing the food didn’t wash their hands properly, according to the MDH.
What are some other ways that people catch it, according to the CDC?
- By touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your fingers in your mouth.
- By coming into contact with someone who’s infected, perhaps by caring for that person or by sharing utensils with them.
Enclosed places like daycare centers, schools, nursing homes, and cruise ships are heaven to your average norovirus. This unpleasant gift that keeps on giving loves a crowd.
What are the symptoms of norovirus, according to the CDC?
These are the most common symptoms:
- Stomach pain
Other symptoms include fever, headaches, and body aches.
How do you prevent norovirus from rudely barging into your house?
There are the usual recommendations, like washing your hands thoroughly before preparing food, according to the CDC, but you should also:
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. I have always soaked my fruits and vegetables in a solution of vinegar and water. Vinegar is very acidic and makes a good germ killer.
- Cook shellfish — especially oysters — thoroughly before eating. Norovirus is extremely hardy and resistant and can survive temperatures as high as 140 degrees F. The steaming methods most of us use for seafood are often not sufficient enough to kill this virus.
- Don’t gamble if you suspect food is contaminated. Toss it out.
- If you’re at a picnic or other public gathering, avoid foods that can be easily contaminated, especially in warm weather.
If you or your kids do get sick, this is what the CDC recommends:
- Don’t prepare food around your children if they are sick, and keep them away from areas where food is prepared.
- If you get sick, don’t prepare foods for others, especially if they are also ill. The CDC recommends that you don’t prepare food until you have recovered for 2-3 days in order to prevent the spread of this illness to others. This is especially important if you work in a school cafeteria, a daycare center, a nursing home, or a hospital. If your job requires you to handle food, many state health departments will mandate that you avoid coming to work until 2-3 days after you have recovered.
- Clean and disinfect areas if you vomit or have diarrhea. The CDC recommends using bleach because it effectively kills norovirus germs.
- Wash soiled laundry thoroughly. Immediately remove clothes that have been contaminated with vomit or diarrhea. Use rubber or disposable gloves to handle the soiled items and wash your hands afterward.
- Wash the items with detergent on your washing machine’s longest setting.
Make sure to drink plenty of liquids. Dehydration is common with this ailment, according to WebMD. Children are especially prone to dehydration and malnutrition, and in these cases it’s a good idea to give your child an oral rehydration liquid such as PediaLyte. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness when standing, dry mouth, and decreased urination. In severe cases, intravenous (IV) fluids are given.
Unfortunately, norovirus, unlike other types of food poisoning that are bacterial in nature, doesn’t respond to antibiotics. That’s because they are designed to kill bacteria, not viruses. However, one good point about this ailment is that it usually only lasts about 2-3 days.
It just seems a lot longer.