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How Can You Avoid Norovirus 2024?

Norovirus is extremely contagious and is spiking in the US! Can you catch norovirus by breathing in viral particles? How can you avoid it?

Norovirus is nasty! You do not want to catch this “stomach flu.” It is also called “winter vomiting bug” and “cruise ship virus.” This pathogen is incredibly contagious and is circulating far and wide. We know that people are fed up with viruses: coronaviruses, flu viruses, cold viruses, etc. But norovirus 2024 is nasty! Public health authorities are reporting onslaughts in the northeast, but this highly infectious stomach “bug” is widespread in the southwest and west. The midwest and the south are also affected. We are reading about cases in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico and Oregon.

You will not easily forget a run-in with this intestinal apocalypse! Just contemplate the term “projectile vomiting.” Perhaps you have heard the expression “gut wrenching.” It is usually reserved for an emotionally challenging experience. I would like to suggest that you take that phrase literally. It should give you pause if you think norovirus is no big deal.

What Are the Symptoms of Norovirus?

Symptoms come on suddenly with severe vomiting and diarrhea. Victims may also have headaches, stomach cramps and fever. Reading about such symptoms doesn’t tell the real story, though. Here is what readers of our newsletter report:

Mike gives you a sense of what this virus is like:

“It does come on quickly, believe me! Hopefully you are near a bathroom when it strikes…like within a few steps! It is the only time in my life where I had to alternate sitting and kneeling for hours, outside of church.

I did not leave the bathroom for a few hours out of fear. Dehydration is very thorough and no doubt dangerous for many. If you first experience symptoms at home, cancel any plans for a few days because it will hunt you down.

This virus is almost impossible to avoid if you are caring for infected kids. It was 8 years ago and I still use it as a relative measure. “Well compared to noro….” You get the idea.”

Pat also describes an intestinal “apocalypse”:

“After Christmas dinner at our daughter’s house, EVERYONE that was there came down with Norovirus! my husband hadn’t been feeling well (nausea) and went to bed early.

By 9:00 pm my nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea started with a cataclysmic explosion! If I’d known what was happening, I would have stayed on the toilet with a large bowl in my lap. I had no idea this would go on for 5 hours! Every time I had to vomit, the diarrhea would activate at the same time.

I would not wish this on my worst enemy, and I pray to God that I never get it again!”

C. tells what happens when you are close to cruise ships:

“I lived in the Caribbean with my office right on the harbor. One day I bought a salad from a fast food place where a lot of the cruise ship crew ate. The next day I thought I was going to die. I certainly wished I would because I was unbelievably miserable.

“I literally could not even drink water the first day because it would trigger vomiting and dry heaves, coming out all ends. The second day I could suck on ice chips, and the third day I could take small sips of ginger ale. I was incredibly weak so I could barely stand up. It was the most excruciating stomach pain I’ve ever had in my life.”

D. has another way to describe a norovirus attack:

“I’m currently recovering from what is probably norovirus. I don’t know where I caught it but had been to the pharmacy, chiropractor and grocery store. Intestinal tsunami is a perfect description for the abdominal pain and the projectile vomiting.”

K. demonstrates how contagious this bug can be:

“Norovirus is as contagious as they say. I caught it and became very ill. I went to bed early because I didn’t feel well but had to get up because of the vomiting and extreme diarrhea.

“On the way back from the bathroom, I passed out and woke up on the floor. I called the doctor in the morning. She advised hospitalization or Gatorade. My neighbor went to the store for me to get the Gatorade, but I didn’t realize how contagious norovirus is. She caught it from the money I gave her for the purchase!”

As you can imagine, a condition that causes severe diarrhea and projectile vomiting could spread a lot of virus around. What’s more, it takes only a few viral particles to infect someone.

How Do People “Catch” Norovirus?

The CDC describes the situation:”

  • “While sick, they shed billions of tiny viral particles in their stool and vomit. It takes a very small amount—as few as 18 viral particles—to make another person sick. People can get sick if they are exposed to a tiny amount of stool or vomit from an infected person.
  • They are most contagious when sick with vomiting and diarrhea, but may also infect others before symptoms start and after they feel better.
  • Because symptoms come on suddenly, an infected person who vomits in a public place may expose many people.”

“Norovirus is hard to kill and stays on food, kitchen surfaces, and utensils. It can

  • Remain infectious on foods even at freezing temperatures and until heated above 140°F.
  • Stay on countertops and serving utensils for up to 2 weeks.
  • Resist many common disinfectants and hand sanitizers.”

Can You Catch Norovirus From the Air?

The CDC emphasizes that you can get norovirus by “touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your unwashed fingers in your mouth.” What the CDC does not mention is airborne transmission.

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK offers a somewhat different perspective, though. It does list contaminated food as one source of spread. The NHS also describes touching contaminated surfaces or objects.

But here is the big difference between the US public health services and the NHS:

“Norovirus spreads very easily in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

“You can catch it if small particles of vomit or stools (poo) from an infected person get into your mouth through:

  • close contact with someone with norovirus who may breathe out small particles of the virus that you then inhale”

We interpret that to mean that it is possible to breathe in norovirus…much as you might breathe in other viruses such as influenza or SARS-CoV-2. The only difference is that those are respiratory viruses, whereas norovirus is a viral infection that causes intestinal nastiness.

How Can You Avoid Norovirus?

There is no cure for norovirus. The only treatment is hydration. Some people become so dehydrated that they need intravenous fluids.

That’s why prevention is the most effective strategy during an outbreak. That means being very careful about what you put in your mouth. Food or beverages that are touched by anyone who also handles money could easily be contaminated.

Public restrooms pose a huge risk for infection. Knobs, door handles and almost any object in a public rest room should be treated as if it were nuclear waste. Hand sanitizer is not a substitute, unless it follows at least 20 to 30 seconds of scrubbing with soap and water.

And if you walk into a public restroom where someone had either projectile vomiting or intense diarrhea, it is entirely possible that you will be exposed to the virus by just breathing the air.

To prevent the spread of norovirus, conscientious hand washing is critical. Actually, that is an understatement! You cannot be too scrupulous in your hand hygiene! Air quality may also be a factor.

How Easily Do Viruses Spread?

Several years ago, researchers at the University of Arizona studied the spread of viruses by using a bacteriophage virus that resembles norovirus in size and shape (Sassi, American Journal of Infection Control, July 1, 2015). They put the test virus, which is noninfectious but easily detected, on a single door knob or table at the start of several research days in office buildings and a health care facility in Tucson.

Throughout each day, they sampled other surfaces such as light switches, tap handles, bed rails or computer equipment. Nearly two-thirds of the surfaces studied had been contaminated within the first few hours of the day.

The lead researcher, Chuck Gerba, PhD, determined that washing hands and using disinfectant wipes could stop this predictable spread almost completely. All we need to do is convince everyone to use these simple strategies.

As your mother probably told you countless times, wash your hands. Don’t rely on hand sanitizer, as it does not work well against this virus. Scrubbing with soap and water works better.

The Nay Sayers!

Take a look at some of the comments below. These folks do not believe in the germ theory of disease. Be sure to read Noah’s remarks. He wants us to “strengthen” our immune systems by being exposed to pathogens. Try selling that message to someone in the middle of a norovirus attack.

Here is Julie’s comment:

“I notice that the people who are most susceptible to bacteria-borne illnesses are the ones who constantly use hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes on surfaces, and are plainly in terror of everything not completely sterilized.

“I wash my hands with soap (but usually less than 10 seconds) after using the restroom, don’t own a bottle of hand sanitizer, and invoke the 5-10 second rule if something edible (like a cookie) hits a floor, etc.

“I’m rarely ill or suffer stomach viruses or other nasty maladies. I suspect it’s because I’ve developed a healthy immune system over the years by not being a germ-o-phobe.”

And here is a response to the nay sayers from Jas:

“I’M OUTRAGED! The reason why viruses, germs, fungi & bacteria thrive in the first place is that their hosts of transmission are ignorant, inconsiderate, lazy humans. Yes, viruses will still survive and get people sick… but how hard is it to wipe Purell on your hands? Really? It takes 10 seconds! (And what exactly are you going to do with those extra 10 seconds of not cleaning your hands? Save humanity???)

“I got h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l-i-z-e-d with the norovirus, which I did track to the grocery cart I had used. God knows what baby poop or snot germs were on the cart handle, but it cost me, you and everyone else over $1,000 in insurance costs and lost wages for the ambulance, IV, over-night hospital stay, etc., just because you slobs out there don’t give a damn and think you’re invincible…? (Whiskey!-Tango!-Foxtrot!)

“We live in our culture where people make more of an effort and spend billions of dollars to kill body odor, than kill the germs that can make them horribly sick or kill you! I say, label these stubborn, inconsiderate morons as F.O.Gs (Friends of Germs!)

I vote for the “Germ-a-phobes.” I’d rather live with reasonable preventative steps to protect my health and my family’s health than die with the plague… just because there’s a plague of idiots out there.”

Don’t Forget to Disinfect:

Washing up may not be enough, since flushing the toilet can spread infectious droplets around the bathroom. Consequently, the CDC recommends that bathroom surfaces be cleaned frequently with a bleach-based cleanser to disinfect them.

The CDC Recommends:

“After someone vomits or has diarrhea, always thoroughly clean and disinfect the entire area immediately:

  • Put on rubber or disposable gloves and wipe the entire area with paper towels, then disinfect the area using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label.
  • Leave the bleach disinfectant on the affected area for at least five minutes, then clean the entire area again with soap and hot water. Finish by cleaning soiled laundry, taking out the trash, and washing your hands.

“You should use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1,000 to 5,000 ppm (5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach [5% to 8%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

Don’t want to measure 25 tablespoons of household bleach? The CDC offers this:

“¾ cup of bleach plus 1 gallon of water”

Always wear disposable gloves and a face mask when cleaning up after someone who has experienced an intestinal apocalypse. Once you have cleaned up the mess and wiped everything down with a dilute bleach solution and left it for five minutes:

Step 4 Clean all surfaces again with hot water and soap

Step 5 – Remove your gloves, throw them away, and take out the trash

Step 6 – Wash all laundry that may have vomit or poop on them with hot water and soap

Step 7 – Wash your hands with soap and water”

A sick person should not cook for or care for others, as that might spread norovirus. In addition, food should be cooked completely, and laundry should be washed thoroughly with very hot water. Dry thoroughly at high temperature. We hope you do not catch nasty noro!

If you have experienced this intestinal apocalypse, please describe it for the people who think “germs” are no big deal.

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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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