Attack of the Norovirus?

A new strain of the ‘Winter Vomiting Bug’ has reached the United States, but Lexington's Health Division did not indicate there is increased cause for alarm here.


Much has been said about the nasty flu season that’s upon us. Meanwhile, the norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, has also been making its rounds.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the norovirus is responsible for about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year, and a new strain has reached the United States this year. Common symptoms of the so-called winter vomiting bug include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains.

Outbreaks of norovirus, sometimes called the "stomach flu," are common in communal settings such as schools, daycare facilities and nursing homes, according to literature provided by Lexington's Health Division.

A new norovirus strain, GII.4 Sydney, was detected last year in Australia. The strain hit the U.K. and sickened over a million people and has now reached the United States. Of norovirus cases reported from September to December, 54 percent have been identified as GII.4 Sydney, according to recently released data.

When it comes to protecting oneself from catching -- or spreading -- the norovirus, the Health Division's advice is the tried and true tactics of washing your hands, staying home when sick and keeping shared surfaces clean.

"Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the transmission of norovirus," the Health Division literature says. "Hands should be washed with warm water and soap for 15-20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also be used in addition to handwashing to help prevent the transmission of norovirus."

Public Health Director Gerard Cody provided several documents with informaiton on the norovirus, and all of them are posted as PDFs above.


The first norovirus outbreak was reported in Ohio in 1968. Today, approximately 21 million illnesses are attributable to norovirus in the U.S. each year, reports the CDC.  Of those, approximately 25 percent can be attributed to foodborne transmissions. The norovirus can also spread quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.

This hardy virus is extremely contagious. The BBC reports that norovirus is one of the few infections you can catch from a toilet seat. The virus can survive temperatures as high as 140°F, which makes eating raw fish, such as oysters, particularly dangerous.

Noroviruses can live in vomit or stool even before a person experiences symptoms, and up to two weeks after symptoms disappear.  People are most contagious when they experience symptoms and during the first three days after recovery, reports the CDC.  

There is no treatment or vaccine against norovirus.  To help prevent contamination, the CDC recommends the following tips:


1. Practice proper hand hygiene

Always wash your hands carefully with soap and water:

  • after using the toilet and changing diapers, and
  • before eating, preparing, or handling food.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. But, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.

2. Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly

  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them.
  • Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 140°F and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
  • Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.

3. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others

  • You should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while you are sick and for at least 2 to 3 days after you recover.
  • This also applies to sick workers in schools, daycares, and other places where they may expose people to norovirus.

4. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

  • After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
  • Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

5. Wash laundry thoroughly

Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with
vomit or stool (feces).

You should—

  • handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
  • wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after,
  • and wash the items with detergent


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