Public health officials report 'widespread' norovirus activity across Olmsted County
Community alert from Olmsted County Public Health Services:
Olmsted County Public Health Services has seen an increase in reports of illness consistent with norovirus. In addition to the foodborne illness outbreaks being investigated last week, reports of illness have been received from parents, healthcare providers and schools, and investigations have begun at additional restaurants and a school in Olmsted County.
In an average year, Public Health staff investigate 2 foodborne illness outbreaks. Public Health has a total of five investigations at this time. This level of activity is uncommon and indicates widespread community transmission.
“We say it all the time, but it really is true - washing your hands frequently and thoroughly does help protect from norovirus, and many other illnesses,” said Leah Espinda-Brandt, disease prevention and control nurse manager for Olmsted County Public Health Services.
Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can infect anyone. You can get it from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed which leads to stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and vomiting.
Symptoms usually resolve themselves in 1-2 days, however people can still pass the virus on to others for several days after. Norovirus outbreaks occur throughout the year, but over 80 percent of the outbreaks occur from November to April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, and there are about 200 different strains which vary from season to season.
- Noroviruses are very small -- A grain of sand is about a million times bigger than a single bacterial cell, and a single bacterial cell can be 40 to 100 times bigger than a norovirus particle.
- Norovirus spreads easily and quickly. It only takes 10-100 norovirus particles to cause an infection, yet it is estimated that a person may expel as many as 30 million norovirus particles during one vomiting episode. In addition, these particles are also present in the millions in the infected person’s fecal matter. Norovirus is spread by eating or drinking items that are contaminated with norovirus, or by touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.
- Norovirus can survive on objects and surfaces such as toilets, toilet “flush” levers, faucets, door handles, computer keyboards, countertops, telephones, etc. for several days, or even weeks.
- Norovirus can be difficult to stop the spread. The best way to prevent getting sick in the first place is good hand hygiene.
Health officials recommend the following practices to protect yourself and others from norovirus and other contagious viruses:
- Wash your hands. Handwashing is the number one way to protect yourself and others.
- Avoid food handling duties if currently or recently ill.
- Throw away foods that have been handled or prepared by someone who is or has recently had vomiting or diarrhea unless it will be thoroughly cooked before serving.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of vomiting or diarrhea by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
- Keep ill children and staff away from school and other activities for one full day after symptoms resolve
More on information on the virus can be found on Mayo Clinic's website.
(Cover photo: File / U.S. Department of Agriculture)