Sunday, December 13, 2015

What to do when the norovirus comes to visit

So with the Chipotle norovirus outbreak and the fact that everyone in my family, except for me, are suffering from the effects of norovirus infection (most likely a matter of time for me as you can see by the picture it's hard to say no to that face), I thought I'd share some ways to help limit the spread and some general information about the norovirus.

The source of the TMV family norovirus outbreak

The name norovirus refers to the genus norovirus in the family Caliciviridae which has a single species, the Norwalk virus. Within this species there are numerous strains from five genotypes, including a mouse genotype that is used as a model to study the species. For simplicity, I'll refer to the virus by norovirus as that is what it is called in the media most often. They all cause pretty similar symptoms: vomiting and diarrhea that can vary in severity, stomach pain, fever, headache, and body aches.

So how does one avoid the norovirus? One of the simplest measures to limit spread is to wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Washing fruits and vegetables can also help as can avoiding certain foods like oysters that serve as a host for the norovirus (the virus sticks to the oyster). Above all, avoid touching strange surfaces or letting toddlers put random things into their mouths (say in the waiting room of a doctors office). So let's say for example, that your toddler caught the norovirus and is sharing with the whole family. How can you limit the spread so that you don't share with other families? Again, the easiest way is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water. Alcohol rubs don't do much on their own but may (or may not) be used in conjunction with thorough hand washing. All laundry needs to be washed thoroughly as soon as possible on the longest cycle possible and machine dried. Also, all potentially contaminated surfaces need to be disinfected with bleach (bleach is the best) but do not use disinfectant wipes as they won't do much. Lysol spray is effective and can be used on surfaces that cannot be bleached (such as a carpet). Carpets should be steam cleaned at the end of the outbreak to prevent further spread. But one of the most important things that can be done to limit the spread of the norovirus is to not prepare food for others. This is how norovirus outbreaks are happening in restaurant settings, with a sick or recently sick person coming into work and handling food. A person can shed enough norovirus to be contagious for two days after symptoms have disappeared and the virus can be found in the stool for up to two weeks after as well. A vaccine for the norovirus has been elusive so other than taking precautions before and during an outbreak, there isn't much that can be done. However, there might be hope on the horizon for a vaccine due to some recent developments (a vaccine candidate is in Phase I trials). Until then, wash your hands and be mindful of the risks of certain foods, like oysters.