We're all familiar with flu season, but it's important to also keep an eye out for norovirus between the months of November and April.
An estimated 80 percent of norovirus cases occur during this time, causing acute gastrointestinal distress including diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. The virus spreads through infected people, food and contaminated surfaces.
Healthcare facilities -- nursing homes and hospitals -- are where norovirus outbreaks are most commonly reported. It is easy to see how the virus can spread quickly in a hospital or nursing home setting: Caregivers can touch an infected person or surface and not wash their hands before touching another patient, patients can touch unwashed surfaces that are contaminated with norovirus and then put their hands in their mouths, or food can become contaminated.
As there is no long-lasting immunity to norovirus and it can affect people of all ages, outbreaks can last for weeks. The symptoms are unpleasant for anyone, but can be especially difficult for those who are hospitalized, nursing home residents or individuals who need help from a caregiver or nurse. Additionally, there are more opportunities to spread the virus when a single caregiver is taking care of multiple patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer some tips for preventing the spread of norovirus, helpful for caregivers and those who have loved ones in a nursing home or a hospital:
- Wash your hands! This is important always, but especially so during a norovirus outbreak. Ensure that caregivers and visitors wash their hands before and after coming into contact with each patient.
- Make sure fruits and vegetables are properly washed, and cook all shellfish thoroughly
- Do not prepare food while infected! Food handlers should not prepare food until at least three days after recovering from norovirus.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based cleaner during an outbreak.
- Immediately remove and wash laundry contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle the items carefully to avoid spreading the virus, and machine wash all items at the maximum available cycle length.
For those living in close quarters, such as a hospital or nursing home, it is important to ensure these steps are followed so as to prevent the spread of norovirus.