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Cashins & Associates Blog

Safety and Health - Norovirus Outbreak

Posted by Mike Cashins on Wed, Jan, 16, 2013 @ 17:01 PM

norovirus1With Boston's Mayor Menino declaring a public health emergency highlighting the flu outbreak, we thought it would be a good idea to provide our audience with some norovirus awareness.  The city of Boston has had 700 confirmed cases of the flu so far and four flu-related deaths in 2013.  This number has skyrocketed up from only 70 confirmed cases all of last year.

Yahoo News also released an article that talks about the spread of a new strain of norovirus throughout Australia and Japan.  (New Strain of Norovirus)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a noroviruses as a group of related viruses that affect the stomach and intestines and causes an illness called gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis) or an inflammation of the stomach of intestines.  Roughly, there are 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis causes by noroviruses in the United States each year.    

Basically everyone is at risk to become infected with noroviruses, and you can become infected more than once in your lifetime.  When the norovirus hits people mainly get sick to their stomachs, have cramping along with vomiting and diarrhea.   You can also end up with a low fever, head and muscle aches and other minor symptoms.  Norovirus illness is NOT related to the flu.

Norovirus illnesses are not typically that serious but the symptoms can be severe.  Individuals that get the illness usually feel better within a day or two.  The most at risk people are young children and the elderly.  People with medical conditions can also be severely affected.  The most common condition related to noroviruses is dehydration.  Dehydration comes from not being able to replace the fluids lost from throwing up or having frequent diarrhea. 

If you have a decrease in urination, dry mouth, or a dizzying feeling you may be dehydrated.  The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids.  Orally ingested fluids work the best, but be wary of caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks, they hinder the hydrating process. 

Noroviruses are known to spread rather quickly.  They move their quickest from person to person while in crowded and closed off areas.  Hotels, air planes, and schools are all highly crowded areas where the illness can spread.  Gastroenteritis can also be spread through food if the food has been contaminated.  The norovirus is usually transferred from direct contact with an infected person; people can be contagious from the time that they feel the sickness until three days after they have recovered; it is also contracted from touching a contaminated surface (handrail, door knob) and then touching your mouth. Rapid pace of spreading is such a concern that the UK’s Health Protection Agency has stated that if you have norovirus symptoms that you should stay away from hosptials.  

The CDC says that there is no preventative vaccine, and no drug to treat the sick.  Antibiotics don’t work either because antibiotics only fight bacteria.  To prevent the spread of noroviruses people should wash their hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and prior to preparing food. Many are running to use the alcohol based hand sanitizers but these are fairly useless against the norovirus. Some viruses are coated in lipids which the alcohol can break down and will kill the virus by rupture. This is the case for many influenza strains. However the norovirus is not coated and therefore is relatively unaffected. According to the CDC if you are using the hand sanitizer use it in combination with hand washing and never as a substitute.  

If you have a norovirus you shouldn’t prepare food due to the strong risk of spreading the virus.  If infected vomit gets onto a surface, it is recommended that you use a bleach-based cleaner to disinfect the area. 

Remember, that noroviruses can spread quickly from person to person.  Keep in mind that trying to remain hydrated is paramount, and be mindful to keep up with your daily cleanliness routines. 

This is a Norovirus Awareness Blog.  If you do become ill please consult your Primary Care Physician.  If you have questions related to noroviruses or Industrial Hygiene feel free to contact Cashins & Associates Inc.  

Topics: health & safety

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