Timothy Slama, D.O.
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The holiday season is perfect for family gatherings, shopping excursions and workplace potlucks. Bet these activities can lead to an uninvited guest: norovirus. This contagious virus causes people to become sick and experience cramping, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
People with norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin feeling sick and for the first few days after they recover. With no vaccine to prevent norovirus and no medication to treat norovirus, prevention is up to you.
Who is infected with norovirus?
Anyone can be infected with norovirus and become sick. Also, it's possible to be infected with norovirus many times in your life. Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
Each year, norovirus causes approximately 20 million illnesses, resulting in tens of thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths. If you are infected with norovirus, you can feel ill and throw up or have diarrhea many times a day. This can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults and people with other illnesses. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in Minnesota.
Tips for prevention
- Stay home if you are sick.
This means staying home from school and work. Food service workers are required by law to stay home if they are sick.
- Practice proper hand hygiene.
Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and changing diapers and before preparing foods or eating. Wash your hands more often when someone in your household is sick.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use prior to eating out in public.
- Be smart in the kitchen.
Do not prepare food while you are sick with norovirus or are experiencing norovirus symptoms for at least three days after you recover. Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and thoroughly cook oysters and other shellfish before serving.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
Use a household bleach solution (up to 1½ cups of bleach in one gallon of water) to clean surfaces after vomiting or diarrhea accidents.
- Avoid potluck gatherings.
As difficult as this may be, it's good advice to stay away from homemade items just to reduce exposure to potentially contaminated food.