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Prevent the "Stomach Bug"
Release Date: January 31, 2013

Prevent the "Stomach Bug"


Noroviruses, also called the "stomach bug," "acute gastroenteritis," or "food poisoning," are a group of related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) in humans. Noroviruses spread very easily and quickly causing more than 20 million gastroenteritis cases each year in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates 1 in every 15 Americans will be sick with this group of viruses each year. These viruses are not associated with the flu (influenza).


Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus; noroviruses are gastrointestinal related. There is no vaccine to prevent the norovirus and no medication to treat the infection as of now. People can get norovirus and be reinfected again and again throughout their lifetime.

A highly contagious, potentially serious illness, the norovirus begins suddenly with acute stomach cramping, vomiting, watery diarrhea, and nausea. Low-grade fever and diarrhea are more common in children than vomiting. The incubation period for the norovirus is usually between 24 and 48 hours with symptoms usually lasting 24 to 72 hours. Most people will recover within 1-2 days. Dehydration can be a problem with the norovirus, especially among the very young, the elderly, and those with underlining health conditions. Rehydration is very important in treating infected people. They must drink plenty of liquids by mouth or may need to receive intravenous administration to replace the fluid lost through vomiting and diarrhea.

Since noroviruses are primarily transmitted through the fecal-oral route, identification of the norovirus is diagnosed by obtaining a stool specimen within 48 to 72 hours after the onset of symptoms. People can become infected by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the virus, touching surfaces or objects contaminated, then putting their hand in their mouth, and by having direct contact with an infected person with the illness. Sharing food or eating utensils with someone who is infected can also transmit the virus.

The majority of norovirus outbreaks are due to contaminated food by a food handler immediately before its consumption. According to the CDC, 57% of outbreaks from 1997 to 2000 were food-borne related. Cold foods such as salads, sandwiches, bakery products, salad dressing and cake icing allow the virus to mix and once consumed can cause outbreaks. Oysters from contaminated waters have been known to also cause outbreaks.

The following simple tips will help reduce the chances of you, your family, and others from becoming sick with the norovirus.

  1. Do not prepare food if you are ill:
    Local and state health departments require food handlers and preparers with the virus not to work until 2-3 days after they feel better.
    Hand Washing
  2. Practice proper hand washing:
    The most important way to prevent norovirus transmission and infection is practicing frequent and appropriate hand washing. Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before preparing or handling food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not a substitute for proper hand washing. More information can be obtained from www.cdc.gov/handwashing  external link.
  3. Carefully wash and examine fruits and vegetables:
    Any foods that may have become contaminated with the virus are to be thrown out. Fruits and vegetables should be washed carefully. Foods such as oysters and shellfish should be thoroughly cooked before eating them. Sick children and infants in diapers must be kept away from any food preparation sites.
  4. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces:

    Immediately clean, disinfect, and rinse contaminated surfaces if they have been soiled with vomit or diarrhea by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed by the manufacturer or a solution made by adding 5-25 tablespoons of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. More information can be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/oppad001/list_g_norovirus.pdf  external link.
  5. Laundry duties:
    Linens, towels, and clothing soiled with either vomit or diarrhea should be handled carefully as not to agitate them and spread the virus. They should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and machine dried, according the CDC.

Additional information is available at http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus  external link and www.cdc.gov/HAI/organisms/norovirus.html  external link.

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