Thursday, April 06, 2006
By TOM VOGT Columbian Staff Writer

What are noroviruses? Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis. The term norovirus was recently approved as the official name for this group. They also have been called Norwalk-like viruses.

What are its symptoms? Norovirus usually involves nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, some stomach cramping and, sometimes, a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. Usually, symptoms last only about one or two days.

How serious is it? Norovirus disease is usually not serious. However, sometimes people – including the elderly – are unable to drink enough to replace the liquids they lost because of vomiting and diarrhea.

How do people become infected? Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people. People can become infected by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated; touching contaminated surfaces and then placing their hand in their mouth; having direct contact with an infected person, such as caring for an ill person, or sharing foods or eating utensils.

When do symptoms appear? Usually about 24 to 48 hours after ingestion of the virus, but they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.

Are noroviruses contagious? Noroviruses are very contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Both stool and vomit are infectious. Particular care should be taken with young children in diapers who may have diarrhea.

How long are people contagious? People infected with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least three days after recovery. Some people may be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery.

What treatment is available? There is no antiviral medication for norovirus and there is no vaccine to prevent infection. It cannot be treated with antibiotics, which work to fight bacteria and not viruses.

Can it be prevented? You can decrease your chance of coming in contact with noroviruses by following these preventive steps:

– Frequently wash your hands, especially after toilet visits and before eating or preparing food. – Thoroughly disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.

– Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).

– Flush or discard any vomitus and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

– Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms, and for three days after they recover from their illness.

– Dispose of food that may have been contaminated by an ill person.

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention