Prevent norovirus from spreading
Norovirus, the bug most notorious for infecting the digestive tracts of passengers aboard cruise ships, is sweeping through Arkansas, said Lisa Washburn, assistant professor-health for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
The virus has been blamed for infecting hundreds of students, prompting school closures last month in Springdale and Lincoln in northwest Arkansas.
"The newest version of norovirus, which causes the 'stomach flu,' is spreading across the state," she said. "Few are immune to this new virus strain, and unlike the flu, there is no vaccine to prevent a norovirus infection.
"Most people will be susceptible and should be extra diligent to reduce disease risk by washing their hands after touching public surfaces," Washburn said.
Norovirus is highly contagious. It spreads easily, and illness-causing germs on objects and surfaces can continue to make people sick for days or weeks. The virus also spreads through close contact with infected people, eating or drinking contaminated foods or liquids, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your fingers in your mouth. Door handles, grocery carts, elevator buttons, and keypads used in the check-out line could harbor the virus.
Washburn said the illness can last two to three days, with onset of symptoms within hours of exposure to the virus. Norovirus illness can cause extreme sickness, with multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea over the course of a day.
People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick until at least three days after they recover, and some may be contagious longer than that. The virus can stay in your stool for two weeks or more after you feel better.
To prevent spread of norovirus, follow these tips from the CDC:
--Wash your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers do not work on this particular virus strain. Wash hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before eating, preparing or handling food. Hand washing should take at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
--Do not prepare food or care for others if you are sick. Wait at least two to three days after you recover to resume these activities, or you may expose others to the virus.
--Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Regular detergents are not effective with this virus, so use bleach to disinfect. Vomit and diarrhea can contain billions of virus particles. It takes fewer than 100 particles to cause illness. Clean and disinfect immediately after vomit or diarrhea episodes. Use a chlorine bleach solution to clean. At least five tablespoons of bleach to a gallon of water is necessary to be effective against norovirus.
--Wash laundry thoroughly. Clothing or linens contaminated with vomit or stool should be washed immediately. Wear rubber or disposable gloves to handle soiled items, and wash hands after contact. Wash soiled items with detergent for the longest cycle length available and machine dry.
--Foods can also be contaminated with norovirus, so wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly. Norovirus can survive cooking temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
--Symptoms of norovirus include abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache and fatigue.