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Norovirus, incorrectly called the “stomach flu”, is a virus that affects the stomach and intestines and causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping 24-48 hours after exposure to the virus. Some people also have a headache, muscle aches, and fever/chills. Usually, symptoms last only 1 to 2 days; however, people can be contagious for as long as two weeks even though they feel better. This virus has been the cause of many food-borne disease outbreaks on cruise lines and in local nursing homes and restaurants.
How is Norovirus spread?
Norovirus is found in the vomitus and stool of infected people. If people do not wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom or after cleaning up after someone who is sick, they may have the virus on their hands and spread it to things they touch, especially food. It only takes a few particles of the virus to spread this illness.
People can become infected with the virus when:
- Drinking liquids or eating food that are contaminated with the virus.
- Eating foods, beverages, and even ice that has been handled by someone who has come in contact with the virus and not properly washed their hands.
- Touching objects such as door handles, telephones, etc. that are contaminated with the virus then placing their hand in their mouth.
How can you prevent Norovirus?
Proper hand washing is the best protection to keep you and your family safe from Norovirus. Make sure you and your family, especially small children, always wash hands after going to the bathroom and before preparing foods. It is extremely important to have kids wash their hands frequently. Always cook foods to proper temperatures and store them at correct temperatures and wash fresh produce before using.
What can food handlers and establishments do to prevent the spread of Norovirus?
Individuals who prepare and serve food can easily contaminate the food they handle. This can make their customers ill and result in an outbreak.
To prevent an outbreak of illness from norovirus, follow these simple guidelines
- Do not allow a person with the symptoms of norovirus to work while they are sick.
- Some establishments do not allow the infected person to return to work until 2 or 3 days after they begin feeling better. Under the Ohio Administrative Code, persons who are food handlers and have diarrhea must be excluded from work and can only return when diarrhea has stopped.
- Adopt a strict hand washing policy and enforce it.
- This means washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Because the virus can be shed for up to two weeks in the stool, it is critical that proper hand washing be enforced. In addition, proper and frequent hand washing will prevent the spread of other diseases to your customers and will help keep your entire workforce healthy.