By Beth Blew, Penn State
Often referred to as “stomach flu,” norovirus is most common in Pennsylvania during the winter months. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping and nausea. Early outbreaks have been reported from throughout the Commonwealth, indicating that the incidence of norovirus could be high this year.
Norovirus is highly contagious, easily transmittable and able to survive for three to four weeks at room temperature. Individuals with norovirus are contagious from the time they begin to feel sick until three days (or longer) after recovery. These factors make the close quarters associated with college life particularly challenging for prevention. “Flu season has also begun at University Park,” stressed Shelley Haffner, infection control nurse manager at University Health Services. “And norovirus is hitting at the same time. This makes prevention even more important.”
There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus and symptoms are generally not serious. Norovirus can lead to dehydration and more severe symptoms in individuals with other health conditions. Drinking plenty of fluids — including electrolyte replacing drinks — will help prevent dehydration.
Thorough and frequent handwashing is key to preventing the spread of norovirus. Handwashing after restroom use and before eating or preparing food are especially important. Individuals with norovirus should not prepare food for others while sick and for three days after recovery from their illness. Cleaning contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based cleaning product or a solution of bleach and water can also stop the spread of norovirus.