Wake Forest University school officials in Winston-Salem recently reported that 180 of the school’s students have been treated for norovirus since November. The university’s health services said that most of those students treated were freshmen living in dorms.
Norovirus causes the stomach or intestines to become inflamed and can lead to stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. But there are a number of steps you can take to avoid contracting the virus, including washing hands with soap and water instead of alcohol-based hand cleaners, said Dr. David Priest, an infectious diseases physician at Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists and medical director for infection prevention at Novant Health. Why hand soap? Priest said it’s better at getting “soiling” off hands and it is friction that is most effective against the virus. Here’s more advice from Priest.
Q: How contagious is Norovirus compared with other common contagious diseases, and what are some of its most common causes?
A: It’s highly contagious and is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks worldwide. It is transmitted by the fecal-oral route via direct person-to-person transmission, as well as indirectly via contaminated food, water, environmental surfaces and airborne particles from vomiting. Outbreaks are most often reported in long-term care facilities but also flare up in schools, hospitals, cruise ships and restaurants. Outbreaks are common in community settings where large groups of people congregate and during winter months in particular.
Q: What can students and others do to avoid getting infected?
A: First, they should wash their hands frequently with soap and water instead of using alcohol-based hand cleaners. Those who are sick should not go to work or school until 48 hours after their symptoms have resolved. Wash fruits and vegetables, cook shellfish thoroughly and don’t prepare food for others when you are sick. In addition, clean the environment with a bleach-based household cleaner to kill the virus as it is able to live on surfaces for days to weeks.
Q: How is the virus treated once someone gets it?
A: Treatment of individuals is “supportive.” This means that there is not a specific medication that kills the virus, but rather patients are given fluids and electrolytes to treat dehydration. Most cases of norovirus that occur in healthy adults last just a few days. Individuals who have compromised immune systems are more likely to have complications.
Q: What should schools do to prevent it, if anything?
A: The spread of norovirus infection can occur in any setting where people gather. To reduce the risk of an outbreak, individuals who have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea should stay home until their symptoms are improved for 48 hours. It is important for everyone to practice good hand hygiene as well.
Q: If there are reports of a norovirus at your child’s school, is it OK to still send them there? And is it a good idea for kids to wash their hands when they get home from school in the name of possibly not spreading this through a family?
A: If there is an outbreak at a school, the local health department will be involved and will give instructions to parents and students based on that particular situation. It is always a good idea to practice good hand hygiene.