Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes acute gastroenteritis. Following introduction of rotavirus vaccination, norovirus has become the most common cause of gastroenteritis in adults and children. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. It happens when a person’s stomach and intestines get infected with a virus. Both adults and children can get viral gastroenteritis.
The Center for Disease Control estimates norovirus to be responsible for 19-21 million illnesses, including 50,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations as well as 570 to 800 child deaths every year in the U.S. alone. Anyone can get infected with norovirus and become sick.
Norovirus outbreaks occur throughout the year. But, over 80% of the outbreaks occur from November to April.
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What are the symptoms of norovirus?
The most common symptoms of norovirus include; diarrhea, throwing up, nausea and stomach pain. Other symptoms can include; fever, headache and body aches.
These symptoms usually appear within 12 to 48 hours of being exposed to norovirus. For most people, norovirus illness is not serious and they get better in one to three days. A person may become extremely ill and throw up or experience diarrhea multiple times a day which can lead to dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include; decreased urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up. Young children who are dehydrated may cry with fewer tears and usually are sleepy and fussy.
How do you treat norovirus?
Unfortunately, there is no specific medicine to treat people infected with the norovirus illness. Norovirus cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral – not bacterial – infection. If your child has the norovirus illness have them drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea to help prevent dehydration.
What’s the best way to prevent Norovirus?
These tips will help protect you and your child from norovirus.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before eating, preparing or handling food and especially after changing diapers or using the restroom.
- Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly before preparing or consuming them.
- Do not prepare foods or care for others when you are sick and for at least two days after symptoms stop.
- Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. You should handle soiled items carefully by wearing gloves and washing your hands after.
- Clean and disinfect any surfaces thought to be contaminated.
- The CDC recommends using a chlorine bleach solutions with a concentration of 1000-5000 ppm; about 5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water.
Norovirus and Working With Food
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States.
Where do norovirus outbreaks from food contamination happen?
- Restaurant: 64%
- Catering or Banquet facility: 17%
- Private Residence: 4%
- Health Care Facilities: 1%
- Schools and Daycare: 1%
- Other/multiple: 13%
Source: CDC National Outbreak Reporting System, 2009-2012
Norovirus and Food Service Workers
Foods Contaminated with Norovirus Can Make People Sick
Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States.
The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and infective. It only takes a very small amount of virus particles (as few as 18) to make someone sick.
Food can get contaminated with norovirus when:
- infected people who have stool or vomit on their hands touch the food,
- it is placed on counters or surfaces that have infectious stool or vomit on them, or
- tiny drops of vomit from an infected person spray through the air and land on the food.
Foods can also be contaminated at their source. For example:
- oysters that are harvested from contaminated water, or
- fruit and vegetables that are contaminated in the field.
Food Workers with Norovirus Illness Can Spread the Virus to Others
People who have norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles.
You are most contagious:
- when you are sick with norovirus illness, and
- during the first few days after you recover.
If you work with food when you have norovirus illness, you can spread the virus to others. You can easily contaminate food and drinks that you touch with bare hands. People who consume the food or drinks can get norovirus and become sick. This can cause an outbreak.
Outbreaks of norovirus illness occur in nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants, cruise ships, schools, banquet halls, summer camps, and even at family dinners. These are all places where people often eat food handled or prepared by others.
Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. Most of these outbreaks occur in the food service settings like restaurants. Infected food workers are frequently the source of the outbreaks, often by touching ready-to-eat foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, with their bare hands before serving them. However, any food served raw or handled after being cooked can get contaminated with norovirus.
Norovirus outbreaks can also occur from foods, such as oysters, fruits, and vegetables, that are contaminated at their source.
Food workers can follow some simple tips to prevent norovirus from spreading:
- Avoid preparing food for others while you are sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
- Wash your hands carefully and often with soap and water
- Rinse fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly
- Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces routinely
- Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry thoroughly
- CDC Vital Signs — Preventing Norovirus Outbreaks, Food Service has a Key Role
- Help Prevent the Spread of Norovirus (“Stomach Bug”), poster in English and Spanish from Somerset (NJ) County, Department of Health, NEHA, Water Quality & Health Council, and American Chemistry Council
- Clean-up and Disinfection for Norovirus (“Stomach Bug”), poster in English and Spanish from Somerset (NJ) County, Department of Health, NEHA, Water Quality & Health Council, and American Chemistry Council
- Norovirus Illness: Key Facts[2 pages]
- Norovirus: Facts for Food Workers[2 pages]
- FDA Food Code
- FDA Retail Food Protection: Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook