2 things an infectious disease doctor is doing to avoid catching the norovirus stomach bug amid US outbreak
- Norovirus is extremely contagious and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
- November to April is when most outbreaks of the virus occur in the US.
An infectious disease doctor told Insider how she protects herself from norovirus as outbreaks occur across the US.
Most norovirus outbreaks in the US happen between November to April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. There were 254 outbreaks of the infection between August 1, 2022 and February 12, 2023, which is within the same range as winter outbreaks during the 2012-2020 season, according to the CDC.
Norovirus is a stomach bug that causes vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain, and for most clears up on its own within three days. But it causes around 900 yearly deaths, mostly in people aged 65 and over, the CDC said.
Norovirus is extremely contagious and spreads mainly through food and water contaminated by a sick person. It is especially likely to spread in close quarters such as cruise ships or college dormitories, Dr. Purvi S. Parikh, an infectious diseases doctor at NY Langone said.
Here are four tips from Dr. Parikh for avoiding getting infected with the virus.
Regularly washing hands is key to avoiding catching norovirus
"What we recommend is frequent hand washing. That's the key to avoid the spread of norovirus," Dr. Parikh said.
Washing hands with soap and water is the "gold standard" way to get rid of norovirus germs because the friction helps kill more of the viral particles, but hand sanitizer is better than nothing if it's the only option, she said.
Dr. Parikh wears gloves while treating patients, but still washes her hands throughout the day, particularly in between patients, and before and after eating.
When she comes home from work, she washes her hands again.
Make sure food is clean before eating
Dr. Parikh said that a lot of norovirus transmissions happen through food.
The CDC said that norovirus spreads when a person accidentally gets particles of poop or vomit from an infected person in their mouth, often through contaminated food or water.
As well as washing her hands before and after eating, she said it's important to clean down surfaces where food is prepared.
Making sure the food itself is free from germs is also important.
"If there's any like salads or fruit or cold cuts, I make sure that they're well rinsed off and clean before consuming them," she said. Parikh also makes sure all her food is well-cooked.
The CDC said it can also be transmitted if food is grown or harvested with contaminated water, such as oysters or fruit and vegetables. Cooking oysters and other shellfish thoroughly is important, because the virus is relatively resistant to heat and can survive temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the agency said.
Isolate if you have norovirus symptoms
If someone does catch the virus, it is important for them to isolate, Dr. Parikh said.
Those with symptoms should stay home and not go to work or socialize due to the highly contagious nature of norovirus.
This is especially true of those living in close quarters, such as on cruise ships or in college dormitories.
She said: "Those type of situations you have to be even at higher alert about the spread about it. You should be even more cautious with hand washing, wiping down, disinfecting surfaces."
Masks don't protect against norovirus
As the virus isn't airborne, Dr. Parikh said that masks aren't as effective for norovirus as they are for COVID or the flu.
She said: "It's mostly a stomach bug, which is a little bit different than other viruses that are respiratory."
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