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What's Going Around: Norovirus

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 8:49 AM

If someone in your family has caught a bug that’s wreaking havoc in their gastrointestinal tract, norovirus is a likely suspect. Yes, norovirus is infamous on cruise ships, but it’s just as likely to spread rapidly in schools, at work or in your home.


That’s because norovirus is one of the most contagious of all viruses. The amount of microscopic particles that would fit on the head of a single pin is enough to infect more than 1,000 people, it can live on surfaces for two weeks and hand sanitizers can’t kill it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stephen Schrantz, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist at NorthShore, answers questions about this highly contagious virus:

How do you get norovirus?
Norovirus is the most common foodborne illness in the United States and the majority of outbreaks occur when food service workers contaminate food. Shaking hands, touching contaminated surfaces, caring for an infected person, or eating food that was touched by an infected person, can make you ill if you then touch your mouth.

How do you prevent it?
Meticulous hygiene is the best way to prevent norovirus, or any gastrointestinal infection. Don’t depend on hand sanitizers to get the job done. Wash hands often with soap and warm water during the day, don’t touch your face with unwashed hands, and use a product with bleach (on bleach appropriate surfaces) if you’re cleaning up after an infected person. Keep this bleach cleaning routine for two weeks after symptoms disappear.

How do I know if I have norovirus and not food poisoning?
Although both have similar symptoms - vomiting and diarrhea – E.coli or salmonella poisoning can be more severe and last longer. There’s no way to really know unless lab tests are done, but these are generally not necessary.

If I get it once, can I get it again?
Yes, because there are many different norovirus strains. You may get a milder case the second time around if the strain is similar.

Is there a vaccine for norovirus?
A vaccine is currently in clinical trials.

How are you and your family protecting yourself against the virus?