According to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH), the heart of winter is bringing an expected but unwelcome visitor to the state: norovirus. Cody Loveland, WDH surveillance epidemiologist, said norovirus is also known as the “cruise ship virus” and is often described as the stomach flu or food poisoning.
People who are sick with norovirus may experience nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue and dehydration. Loveland noted norovirus illnesses can occur at any time of the year, but are more common in Wyoming during winter and spring.
“This year, a new strain of norovirus has been detected in the United States,” Loveland said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us years with a new strain can lead to 50 percent more norovirus illnesses. So that’s something we are watching.”
Norovirus is spread when people eat or drink contaminated food and beverages, touch surfaces contaminated with the virus or through close contact with someone who is already sick. Germs spread very easily in places where people are frequently in close contact such as schools, daycares and nursing homes.
“Many people blame the last thing they ate when they get sick, but norovirus is spread through many routes other than just food,” said Loveland. Illness can hit quickly between 12 to 48 hours after a person has been exposed. The symptoms usually last from one to three days and go away without causing long-term problems. However, because norovirus can be serious when people become dehydrated, those who become severely ill may need to call or visit a medical professional. Infants, young children, immune-compromised persons, and persons who are unable to care for themselves, such as the disabled or elderly, are at higher risk for dehydration and may need hospitalization.
“Good hand washing is very important because people can still be contagious and spread the virus for a couple of days after symptoms go away,” Loveland said. “We want to remind people that norovirus can be prevented.”
Recommended steps to help prevent illness include:
• Frequently wash hands, especially after using the restroom, after changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
• If ill, stay home from work and school, especially if employed in food-handling, healthcare or child care.
• Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea by using a solution of 1 cup household bleach per 1 gallon of water and letting the solution sit for one minute. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions.
• Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).
• Ill persons should take extra care to avoid the possible spread of the virus to others, by minimizing contact with other persons while ill and practicing good hygiene. Loveland said there are other viruses and illnesses caused by bacteria contamination that can cause similar symptoms but norovirus is most common.