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Beware Norovirus, Coffee Cup Lids and Dirty Money

Norovirus is spreading fast around the country! Why should you beware norovirus? Can you catch it from coffee cup lids and dirty money?

The most recent update from the CDC (March 7, 2024) reveals norovirus on the rise across the four regions of the US: Southern, Northeastern, Midwestern and Western Census Regions. The Northeast seems especially hard hit, so beware norovirus if you are anywhere between Pennsylvania and Maine. Here is the most recent graph of the region. You can see that starting last fall, cases have been steadily rising and the last few weeks have been especially steep. Similar curves are showing up every place else!

CDC graph of norovirus in the northeast as of March 7, 2024

CDC graph of norovirus in the northeast as of March 7, 2024

Who Cares?

Most peoople are fed up with viruses! Americans are sick and tired of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID. They are also ready to move on from other respiratory infections brought on by rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. No one wants to hear about RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). What about influenza?Although flu viruses are still circulating, most people could care less. Why should you care about norovirus then?

If you are not familiar with this highly infectious virus, it is also known as the cruise ship virus. It causes severe gastrointestinal distress with pain, nausea and vomiting as well as diarrhea. Some people refer to norovirus as stomach flu.

Do not be misled, though. This virus is by no means limited to cruise ships and it is unrelated to influenza viruses. Calling it a stomach flu may make it seem kind of benign. Describing an attack as “digestive distress” does not capture the intensity of the infection. Some people have referred to an attack of norovirus as an intestinal apocalypse!

Why Should You Beware Norovirus NOW?

The CDC reports that this easily transmitted infection is widespread across the country. There is no effective treatment other than tincture of time. It’s important for patients to stay hydrated and avoid contact with other people.

Because this virus is spread so easily, frequent and thorough hand washing is crucial. That may not be enough, though. More about coffee cup lids, dirty money, public restrooms and norovirus shortly.

Norovirus Is Nasty!

Let’s get one thing straight. Norovirus is not restricted to cruise ships.

According to the CDC:

“Worldwide, about one out of every five cases of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines) that leads to diarrhea and vomiting is caused by norovirus. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis, annually causing an estimated 685 million cases. About 200 million cases are seen among children under 5 years old, leading to an estimated 50,000 child deaths every year, mostly in developing countries. However, norovirus illness is a problem in both low- and high-income countries. Every year, norovirus is estimated to cost $60 billion worldwide due to healthcare costs and lost productivity.”

Beware Norovirus in the US:

Lest you think this is just a problem that happens on cruise ships or in other countries, here is what the CDC says about norovirus in the US:

“Norovirus is the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea from acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) among people of all ages in the United States.”

Each year, on average in the United States, norovirus causes:
900 deaths, mostly among adults aged 65 and older
109,000 hospitalizations
465,000 emergency department visits, mostly in young children
2,270,000 outpatient clinic visits annually, mostly in young children
19 to 21 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea illnesses”

Drilling Down On Gastroenteritis:

Let’s keep this simple. “Gastro” refers to your digestive tract, in this case your stomach and intestines. “Enteritis” is inflammation of the lining of your GI tract.

That’s boring. Sorry. Here’s what it feels like. Some of our visitors have described the symptoms they experienced while taking the drug semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy) as an “intestinal apocalypse.”

That’s how I would describe an attack of norovirus. Remember, nearly 500,000 people go to an emergency room in the US each year because of norovirus. That is not your average case of nausea or vomiting.

Why Should You Beware Norovirus?

There is a reason to beware norovirus. It can come on suddenly, with very little warning. When we say nausea and vomiting, that does not do this virus justice. Think PROJECTILE VOMITING! Please do not ask me to describe that. Just let your imagination run wild. It is not pleasant! Abdominal cramps, severe and frequent diarrhea attacks are also common symptoms.

Viruses are a leading cause of gastroenteritis. Norovirus (formally known as Norwalk or Norwalk-like virus) is one of the nastiest. Why Norwalk? The virus was named for Norwalk, Ohio. That’s where the first outbreak occurred in a school in 1968. The virus was identified in 1972.

Beware Norovirus! You Do NOT Want This “Stomach Flu”

Remember, there is no cure for norovirus! Antibiotics will not help. There is no vaccine to prevent an outbreak.

Once you have caught a case of norovirus, it will have to run its course. You will not be able to “grin and bear it.” Remember those words: “Intestinal Apocalypse”!

Readers Describe What It’s Like to Have Norovirus:

One reader described her experience:

“I vomited and had simultaneous diarrhea 12 times! It was a nightmare. I would crawl back to bed for a few minutes rest before the next eruption. The bathroom looked like a war scene–disgusting. I spent the following day in bed, exhausted and rehydrating.

“Then the norovirus stayed with me, unknown to me, and later I had five weeks of diarrhea causing significant weight loss until my gastroenterologist did a stool sample. My family doctor put me on Florastor probiotic which over time helped eliminate the problem.”

Anoather readers shared this sad story:

“I am getting over a recent suspected norovirus infection. Thankfully, I did not have any vomiting, but the diarrhea, body aches, chills and fatigue were definitely present.

“After four days, I am finally without symptoms and intend to stay on the BRAT [bananas, rice, applesauce and toast] diet for several more days. Switching one’s diet too quickly after norovirus can cause debilitating symptoms to return, as I learned by hard experience.

“I likely was exposed after sitting next to a friend at a restaurant who had been sick with suspected norovirus the week before. Apparently, norovirus can be contagious up to two weeks after symptoms subside.”

Is Prevention Even Possible?

We have been swamped by messages from people who are now opposed to vaccines in general. They keep telling us to just bring on the next infection. They maintain that a well-balanced diet, vitamin D, zinc and sunshine will protect them against just about any pathogen Mother Nature throws at them.

Please do not get us wrong. We are great believers in eating healthy food that is not ultra processed. We take vitamins daily and love sunshine. Just listen to our interview with Dr. Roger Scheult to learn about the value of vitamin D and sauna bathing. But nothing will protect you from norovirus. And remember…there is no vaccine and no antiviral medicine that will speed healing or reduce viral spread.

Public health officials stress washing hands carefully and frequently with soap and water. That is important. We won’t argue with that advice, but we categorize it as necessary but not sufficient.

When someone is violently ill, they shed billions of tiny viral particles. It only takes a dozen or two of these invisible viral particles to make you sick as a dog. Just walking into a public restroom where someone has been sick could spread the infecti0n.

Cleaning up a bathroom mess is challenging at best and impossible at worst. Wearing a decontamination suit with a respirator might be the only effective strategy, but how many public buildings have that kind of sophisticated equipment available for sanitation staff?

The virus can float through the air and get into your body quite easily. Simply breathing the air in a bathroom where someone vomited or had diarrhea can do you in. Wearing a mask into public restrooms might make sense as an extra precaution in additon to thorough handwashing until this most recent epidemic has passed.

Coffee Cup Lids And Dirty Money?

The title of this piece is “Beware Norovirus, Coffee Cup Lids and Dirty Money.” What do coffee cup lids and dirty money have to do with norovirus?

Before we answer that question, you have to understand that norovirus is incredibly contagious!

The CDC states that:

• “It only takes a very small amount of norovirus particles (fewer than 100) to make you sick.
• People with norovirus illness shed billions of virus particles in their stool and vomit and can easily infect others.
• You are contagious from the moment you begin feeling sick and for the first few days after you recover.
• Norovirus can spread quickly in enclosed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.
• Norovirus can stay on objects and surfaces and still infect people for days or weeks.
• Norovirus can survive some disinfectants, making it hard to get rid of.”

Think about COVID for a moment. It is actually pretty hard to catch COVID from touching door handles, groceries or mail. That’s because the main way people transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus is through the air by breathing in viral particles.

Viruses are measured in nanometers (nm). The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 ranges roughly from 50 nm to 140 nm. The norovirus is smaller, ranging from 27 nm to 38 nm. That means they can, to quote the CDC:

stay on objects and surfaces and still infect people for days or weeks.”

It only takes 100 or fewer of these tiny particles to make you sick. As much as I hate to mention this, projectile vomiting spreads billions of virus particles everywhere and they are hard to clean up or kill! They get on hands, toilet seats, faucets, door knobs and goodness knows where else. Then they get on other hands!

Coffee Cup Lids and Dirty Money!

Here are two articles that have created a lot of drama on this website. We describe situations we have observed where the barista takes your money at the cash register, turns around and grabs a paper cup, fills it with coffee and then pushes the lid down with the same hand that took your money.

We also describe dirty money. You would be amazed what germs have been found on the money you have in your wallet or pocket. And remember, norovirus can persist for days or weeks on all sorts of objects: think doorknobs, ATM machines, elevator buttons and grocery store keypads.

You will find these two articles entertaining and enlightening. The comments from visitors to this website will amaze you.

Should You Worry About Germs on Your Coffee Cup Lid?

Why Do People Fight About Coffee Cup Lid Contamination?

We have been severely chastised by visitors to this website for cautioning about contaminated coffee cup lids. That’s because there are a lot of people who do not believe in the germ theory of disease. Here are just a smattering of comments from riled up readers who read the articles mentioned above.

Cindy and many other visitors don’t worry about “germs”:

“I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating. l am DEFINITELY in the WHO-CARES camp. Not only have I never paid one bit of attention to germs of any kind, most things I do are quite germ-laden. Like petting and kissing animals, retrieving cups out of public trash cans if I need one, and drinking out of them; like eating dirt, like NEVER washing my hands.

“I also drink out of every stream in the mountains. I never get a flu shot; yet I don’t even get colds. If one eats all the right foods, takes all the right supplements and gets lots of exercise, I think that’s all it takes! IMHO, this germ-phobia thing bites people in the rear and makes them get sick more readily. (BTW, I’m now 70!) Cheers.”

Flo says the same thing a bit more succinctly:

“Geez. Even Peoples Pharmacy has given in to the germ phobia in America. Give your immune system a workout & it will take better care of you. Eat Dirt!”

Tom says germs are everywhere, so don’t worry. I bet he has never had a case of intestinal apocalypse. Your immune system will not protect you from norovirus!

“This is getting ridiculous. Germs are everywhere and your best defense is a healthier immune system. That means for many people altering their diets somewhat and living a healthier lifestyle. Just a few changes can help you fight the invasion of germs into your system, which by the way is filled with billions of bacteria and other so-called nasties.”

Final Words:

We care about your health! That is why we spend so many hours each week writing these articles. We do not want you to come down with an intestinal apocalypse!

That’s why we want you to beware norovirus. It spreads easily. Use good common sense and wash your hands thoroughly. Your immune system will not protect you from this “germ.”

If you have ever had “stomach flu” or norovirus, please share what it was like in the comment section below. The comments are absolutely worth reading, even if you have never experienced norovirus. If you think this article is worth sharing with family or friends, please scroll to the top of the page and click on the email, Twitter or Facebook icon and send it along.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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