ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Health Department is warning area residents that the norovirus is on the move across the country, and may already have made its presence felt in North Carolina and even Bladen County.
“It’s out there,” said Wayne Stewart, county health director. “And people need to know what they should do.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, the norovirus is a highly contagious illness caused by infection. It is often called by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu and food poisoning. Norovirus infection causes acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines); the most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Anyone can get norovirus, and they can have the illness multiple times during their lifetime. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.
“Eight counties in North Carolina experienced outbreaks in the month of January” said Stewart. “This is a very contagious virus and can spread rapidly due to the fact people could carry the virus one to three days before showing symptoms.”
The norovirus can make people feel extremely ill and vomit or have diarrhea many times a day. It generally lasts one or two days but dehydration can be a complication especially in children, senior citizens, and folks that have other health issues or illnesses. People with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill to at least 3 days and perhaps for as long as two weeks after recovery, making control of this disease even more difficult. Norovirus can spread rapidly in closed environments like daycare centers and nursing homes.
Stewart said there is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection, but research is being done.
“There is no medicine that will help prevent or treat the norovirus,” Stewart said. “The most important thing to remember is to make sure to drink plenty of fluids to replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases hospitalization and fluids through IV can be required”
Tips on how to prevent getting the norovirus include:
— Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers (containing at least 62 percent ethanol) may be a helpful addition to hand washing, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water. Washing your hands should be the first thing you do when you get home, also not a bad idea to immediately change clothes.
— Take care in the kitchen: Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
— Do not prepare food while infected: People who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover from their illness.
— Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an episode of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label or a solution made by adding five to 25 tablespoons of household bleach to 1 gallon of water.
— Remember to also clean counter tops, door knobs, car steering wheel etc, anything that is touched by unclean hands can possibly carry the virus.
— Wash laundry thoroughly: Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus. They should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.
For information or to comment, contact the Bladen County Health Department at 910-862-6900 or Health Education Department at 910-862-6900, Ext. 5.