The norovirus is a potent viral infection of the digestive system, which can have symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. This includes things like vomiting, severe diarrhea, fever, and symptoms of severe dehydration. While many people refer to it as the “Stomach Flu” it is arguably one of the worst common viruses affecting the human digestive system.
The norovirus is such a potent threat that institutions like the University of Indiana and Virginia Tech University have been hard at work attempting to synthesize a vaccine to help protect against it. If their most recent vaccine trials prove potent enough it could help prevent norovirus illness for thousands of people every year.
The norovirus is such a common, and serious threat that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) track annual cases and the statistics behind them. They estimate that in an average year the norovirus causes
- More than 900 deaths
- Over 110,000 hospitalizations
- More than 450,000 emergency room visits
- Over 20 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea illnesses
These statistics are just estimates for the United States and don’t fully reflect the impact of the norovirus around the globe!
What is the Worst Time of Year for Norovirus?
While the norovirus is present globally, year-round, it tends to be worst in the northern hemisphere between the months of November and April. This is compounded by the fact that it coincides with cold and flu season.
Most researchers believe that this seasonality trend is because more people are indoors during this time of the year, which makes it easier for the norovirus and other diseases to spread. To this point, you often see hot spot events where the norovirus occurs in clusters such as on crowded cruise ships.
While it’s true that you can contract the norovirus just about anywhere, you find it more commonly occurring in schools and universities. It also tends to move in waves through restaurants and food service facilities. It tends to strike fast-food restaurants, cafeterias, and banquet halls with greater frequency than fine dining establishments.
Of course, the high rate of occurrence also means that norovirus is routinely prevalent in a lot of healthcare facilities. This includes clusters of cases that pop up every winter in senior care, assisted living, memory care, and other long-term care residences.
These clusters of outbreaks are so concerning that the CDC actively maintains a map of confirmed norovirus outbreaks which is updated weekly in all participating states.
What Are the Symptoms of Norovirus?
Norovirus symptoms are very similar to the common stomach flu or an intestinal bug. This includes:
- Strong intestinal cramping
- Recurring diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Severe dehydration
Norovirus typically spreads when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches food that they eat, rub their eyes, or touches their mouth. Though it’s also worth bearing in mind that sometimes the norovirus can be spread in the short term via respiratory droplets that occur in conjunction with severe vomiting.
How to Prevent The Spread of Norovirus
The first step in preventing the spread of norovirus is to maintain strict cleaning disciplines and food safety protocols. In the food service industry, this means ensuring that all employees wash their hands after using the restroom and that the highest levels of sanitation are maintained in every facet of food preparation.
At home or at the office, it also means maintaining clean living spaces and employee work areas. Especially in areas where food is handled, stored, cooked, served, or consumed.
If someone in your family or an employee at your work has been diagnosed with norovirus, meticulous cleaning is needed to eradicate the presence of the pathogen before it has a chance to spread further. This starts with obtaining all the necessary cleaning tools and supplies. You also need to make sure that everyone handling the clean-up process has the necessary personal protective equipment such as:
- Non-Vented Goggles
- Face protection to cover the mouth & nose
- Disposable gloves
- Gowns and aprons to cover clothing
- Spill kits to capture accidental clean-up spills.
- Separate disposable trash can with a liner that can be taken directly out to a dumpster
- Commercial-grade disinfecting cleaning solution
- Disposable rags & mop heads
Best Practice Cleaning Procedures for Eliminating the Norovirus
Once you’ve sourced the best possible cleaning products and personal protection equipment, you can begin the norovirus cleaning process in earnest via the following steps.
Insert a strong liner into a trash can nearby to let you immediately dispose of any items used to clean the spill/incident.
Use paper towels and/or absorbent granules to capture as much pathogenic fluid as possible.
Thoroughly clean all affected and nearby surfaces with a commercial all-purpose cleaning solution and disinfectant. It’s best to use disposable microfiber cleaning cloths or rags that can be immediately disposed of.
Clean all hard floors with a disposable mop head and immediately discard after each use. Be sure to change the cleaning solution, frequently, as well as clean, rinse, and disinfect the mop bucket and mop handle with every refill.
Use a wet/dry shop vac to extract all liquid contaminants from soft surfaces and dispose of all rags and absorbent granules. Then apply a soft surface disinfecting solution and follow the instructions on the packaging.
Sanitize all hard surfaces using a properly diluted bleach and water mixture. Another alternative is to use an EPA-registered disinfectant that has been proven effective against norovirus, which may be easier and safer to use. Follow all mixing and dwell time instructions.
After completing all cleaning and sanitizing procedures, immediately place all disposable items in the lined trash can, then dispose of them in an outdoor garbage or an industrial-grade dumpster. If you have a commercial property or healthcare clinic with a biohazard
dumpster, you should use it for the disposal of all affected materials.
Clean and disinfect yourself. This starts with washing your hands for at least one minute with hot, soapy water. All clothing worn during the cleanup needs to be removed and sanitized before being laundered, or directly disposed of as soon as possible. Make sure to remove
your shoes and sanitize the soles to prevent tracking stray pathogenic material to other areas. Then take a shower making sure to wash your face last.