While there is concern over the growing number of deaths in the state attributed to the flu, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is alerting the public and health care providers following confirmation of at least one outbreak of norovirus during the past week and several other outbreaks that also appear to be caused by norovirus.
Norovirus is a contagious virus and a common cause of gastrointestinal illness. It is especially common during the winter months.
"Noroviruses are very hard to kill," said Dr. Robin Gary Cummings, acting state health director. "As with most viruses, the most important way to prevent the spread of illness is by washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Hand sanitizers are not effective against norovirus."
Norovirus is present in the stools and vomit of sick people during illness and for a few days after they recover. People can get sick through direct contact with a person who has the virus, by touching contaminated surfaces, or by eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated with the virus. Noroviruses cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted in food.
The symptoms of norovirus illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly stomach cramping. Some people may also have fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness. The illness begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. In most people, the illness lasts for about one or two days. However, some people — especially young children and the elderly — can quickly become dehydrated and might require medical care or even hospitalization. There are no specific medications to treat norovirus.
Public health experts recommend the following measures to protect yourself and your family from norovirus: Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after toilet visits and before preparing, serving or eating food or drink. Hand sanitizer gels are not effective against norovirus.
Clean up vomit and diarrhea immediately.
Do not prepare food for others to eat while you are sick and for at least 48 hours afterward.
Even after symptoms are gone, wash your hands frequently especially after going to the bathroom.
Remember that you can spread the virus for days and sometimes weeks after the illness ends.
Many commonly used disinfectants are not effective against norovirus. Cleaning with a diluted bleach solution is recommended to disinfect surfaces after an episode of illness.
(A news release from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was used as part of this report.)