University Health Services has received reports of an increase in GI symptoms in the past few weeks. Although many things can cause an upset to the digestive tract, this is the time of year when we most frequently see norovirus, a gastro-intestinal pathogen. Often referred to as the "stomach bug" or "stomach flu," norovirus is highly contagious and easily spread person to person, through contaminated food, and by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. With THON coming up in just a few weeks, this is the time to be taking measures to stay healthy.
Symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain and sometimes fever and muscle aches. Characteristics of norovirus are that it's highly contagious, has a short incubation period of 12-48 hours, and symptoms typically last for 24-72 hours. Dehydration is a concern for people who get these illnesses, especially in the very young and older adults. While there is no medication to cure norovirus, anyone who develops symptoms should stay home until symptoms have resolved, drink clear fluids, such as sports drinks, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom and before eating or drinking, and do not share food or drinks with others. Food preparation needs to be avoided. Rest and remaining hydrated are usually the best strategies for recovery and effective for most people who become ill.
The following steps will help to reduce the risk of sharing and contracting the norovirus, as well as many other pathogens circulating at this time of year:
- Do NOT share food, drinks, glasses, eating utensils, or anything that has come in contact with someone else's saliva.
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the restroom or before preparing food, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers frequently.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetable well and thoroughly cook shellfish.
- Clean surfaces with an approved EPA disinfectant or use a preparation of 5-25 tablespoons of household bleach to 1 gallon of water. This is especially important after vomiting or diarrhea. Wear rubber household gloves when cleaning, and disinfect them when done.
- Wash towels, bedding, and clothing that may have been contaminated with virus splatter.
- If you work or volunteer in a healthcare field, including nursing homes and group homes, daycare, or food service establishments, do not return to these activities until 48 hours after symptoms have completely resolved.
For additional information on norovirus, please visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html.