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N.C. Division of Public Health Urges Precautions to Prevent Norovirus

For release: Immediate    October 20, 2011
Contact: Mark Van Sciver (919) 707-5059

RALEIGH – Recent early seasonal outbreaks of norovirus in some North Carolina long-term care facilities have prompted state public health officials to issue advice on steps everyone can take to avoid this common and unpleasant gastrointestinal illness.

“We recommend vigorous and thorough hand washing with soap and water as the most effective way to protect yourself and others against norovirus,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said. “Hand sanitizers are not as effective against this hardy virus.”

Noroviruses are extremely contagious and spread through contact with the stool or vomit of an infected person. This can occur either while the person is sick or after they have begun to recover. Noroviruses are easily transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces or by direct contact or eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus. Because noroviruses are difficult to kill with normal cleaning and disinfecting procedures, contaminated surfaces should be cleaned immediately and disinfected with a diluted bleach solution or a bleach-based household cleaner.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. Some individuals may have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The symptoms can begin suddenly and an infected person may go from feeling well to feeling very sick in a very short period of time. In most people, the illness lasts about one or two days. Infection can be more severe in young children and elderly people; dehydration can occur rapidly and may require medical treatment or hospitalization.

“Unfortunately, there are no specific medications to treat norovirus, but infected people should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost through vomiting and diarrhea,” Davies said. “The best course of action is prevention.”

Davies offered several simple steps to take if you suspect the presence of a norovirus:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after toilet visits and before preparing, serving or eating food or drink. Hand sanitizers are not as effective against norovirus.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces contaminated with vomit or diarrhea immediately using a bleach-based household cleaner, or dilute household bleach 1:10 in water (must be mixed fresh daily; never use undiluted bleach).
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Do not prepare food when sick and for at least 3 days afterward.

More information about norovirus is available from the Division of Public Health.

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