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The Notorious B.U.G.

You may have heard the words “norovirus outbreak” but do you really know what that means? Each year on average in the United States, norovirus contributes to about 56,000–71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths, mostly among young children and older adults. Whether you are going on a cruise for vacation this summer, visiting a health care facility, or just eating at a restaurant, make sure you understand some of the basics of norovirus to protect you and your family from getting sick.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is very contagious, and causes vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. It is often called “food poisoning” or “stomach flu.” Although food poisoning can be caused by norovirus, other germs and chemicals can cause it too. Norovirus illness is not related to the flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

Anyone can be infected with norovirus; in fact, it is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea among people of all ages. Norovirus is also the leading cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States. According to the CDC, norovirus causes between 19 and 21 million illnesses annually, of which 5.5 million are foodborne. Norovirus illness can be very serious, especially for young children and older adults.

How do you get norovirus?

You can get norovirus from contaminated food or water, by touching contaminated surfaces, or from an infected person. The virus spreads quickly and can even float through the air and settle on surfaces. Infected food workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food. More than half of foodborne norovirus outbreaks involve food workers touching ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands.

You can become infected with norovirus by accidentally getting stool or vomit from infected people in your mouth. This usually happens by:

  • eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus,
  • touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth, or
  • having contact with someone who is infected with norovirus (for example, caring for or sharing food or eating utensils with someone with norovirus illness).

Tips to protect yourself from norovirusHow can I prevent norovirus?

You can help prevent the spread of illness by following these steps:

  • Wash your hands often and carefully with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom and before eating or handling food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them.
  • Cook seafood thoroughly before eating.
  • Food that might be contaminated should be thrown out.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated using a chlorine bleach solution.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and others from norovirus

What should I do if I get sick?

Fortunately, norovirus tends to leave as quickly as it came in, usually lasting about one to three days. However, it could last as long as six days in young children, older adults and immunocompromised individuals. If you start to feel the symptoms of norovirus, be considerate of other people’s health with the following steps:

  • Do not prepare food or care for others when you are sick and for at least two days after your symptoms stop.
  • Stay home (or in your room if you are on vacation or a cruise) to avoid infecting others.
  • Immediately clean and disinfect any surfaces, and remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated vomit and poop.  

If you are on a cruise, report your illness to the crew.

Posted in: SummerTagged: Food Safety