The 4 Easiest Ways to Catch Norovirus, and How to Avoid Them
Experts share how to protect yourself against the dangerous stomach bug as cases spike.
Norovirus feels like it's everywhere right now, and with good reason: Cases are at a 12-month high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The latest data from the agency shows that the current three-week average rate for positive norovirus tests in the U.S. is 16.3 percent. So if you start feeling nauseated with continuous vomiting and diarrhea, there's a good chance you've come down with this rapidly rising illness.
Also commonly known as the stomach bug, "norovirus is highly contagious," Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicology physician and the co-medical director of the National Capital Poison Center, tells Best Life. According to Johnson-Arbor, symptoms typically start anywhere from 12 hours to two days after initial infection, can last for several days, and may also cause concerning health complications, like life-threatening dehydration.
In other words, norovirus is not something you want to experience. To help you stay safe, we consulted health experts to find out how people commonly come in contact with this virus. Read on to find out the four easiest ways to catch norovirus, and how you can avoid them.
Touching contaminated surfaces
You should be taking extra caution these days to make sure your hands are only coming into contact with clean surfaces.
Michael Newell, the vice president of the science-based disinfectant startup AvantGuard, says that touching contaminated surfaces is one of the easiest ways people can catch norovirus. All it takes is a quick touch of the face or mouth afterward for you to get infected.
After an infected person throws up or has diarrhea, "contaminated surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected immediately," he says. Newell recommends using a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of five to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water, or a disinfectant that has been deemed effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
You should also immediately wash clothes that may have been contaminated with feces or vomit, according to Newell. "Wear rubber or disposable gloves when handling contaminated clothing and thoroughly wash hands when done," he adds. "Wash with detergent on a long cycle and dry in a dryer."
Consuming contaminated food or drink
Paying attention to what you're consuming is important because you can also catch norovirus by eating. The virus can "easily contaminate food and water because it only takes a very small amount of virus particles to make you sick," according to the CDC.
Johnson-Arbor says many people aren't aware that norovirus can infect them this way.
"Foods can become contaminated with norovirus when they are touched by an infected person, or when they are exposed to contaminated water that contains fecal waste," she explains. "So even if nobody in your family is infected with norovirus, you could still contract it from eating fresh produce that was inadvertently irrigated with contaminated water on the farm, or from eating raw oysters that were harvested from an area with contaminated water."
There are several things you should do to avoid catching the stomach bug through what you consume. "Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out," Newell warns.
To be safe, you should also thoroughly rinse fruits and vegetables, as well as cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Newell. "Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant," he notes.
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Direct contact with an infected person
Those infected with norovirus can shed billions of viral particles that are not visible to human eye, and it only takes a few of those to make someone else sick, per the CDC.
"Norovirus is highly contagious because it takes as little as 18 viral particles to cause infection compared with influenza A, which requires transmission of thousands of viral particles to cause infection," Johnson-Arbor notes.
This means it's really hard to avoid getting sick if you come in direct contact with an infected individual.
"If you think you have contracted norovirus, stay home and avoid others if possible," Johnson-Arbor advises. "Because norovirus can still be passed from person to person even after initial symptoms have resolved, it's best to avoid food preparation or close contact with other individuals for at least two days after symptoms resolve."
Cleaning up after someone who is sick
Of course, you can't always avoid being near people with norovirus. If someone in your household has gotten sick, you might be the only one available to look after them—but this will put you at a heightened risk of infection.
"People can catch norovirus when they clean up after an infected individual vomits or has diarrhea, or when they change the diaper of an infected individual," Johnson-Arbor warns.
It's not inevitable, however. Practicing preventative measures can help you stay healthy even while caring for someone who is sick. The most important? Properly washing your hands, according to the CDC.
"To avoid contracting norovirus from other people, it's recommended to wash your hands frequently with soap and water instead of using hand sanitizer, as alcohol (the main ingredient in many hand sanitizers) doesn't reliably kill the virus," Johnson-Arbor says.
- Source: https://www.cdc.gov/surveillance/nrevss/images/noro/Noro4PP_NatCent.htm
- Source: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-g-antimicrobial-products-registered-epa-claims-against-norovirus-feline#products
- Source: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/transmission.html
- Source: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/prevention.html