Typically associated with cruise ships whose passengers are almost certain to have their vacation ruined by vomiting and diarrhea once this bug hits a luxury liner, norovirus has been reported in 8 NC counties (see map). Multiple outbreaks of the gastrointestinal illness lead the DHHS this week to issue an alert that norovirus is on the prowl and to inform the public how to stop its spread.
What wasn’t in the press release: how many people are believed to have gotten sick so far. And there’s a reason for that: norovirus is not a disease that must be reported to national or state health authorities. Here is the latest list of CDC’s Nationally Notifiable Conditions. This is NC’s reportable diseases and conditions list.
“It is difficult to report the numbers (for norovirus) because most people won’t ever go to the doctor,” food-borne illness expert Leonard L. Williams, Ph.D., explained. Norovirus spreads person-to-person, but can also transmit when someone who has it touches food or water that another person then consumes.
Williams, an associate professor at NC A&T State University’s Center of Excellence for Post-Harvest Technologies, said norovirus symptoms are usually caulked up by patients to a 24 hour stomach bug and people just stay home.
That’s exactly what they should do because the virus spreads easily and is difficult to kill. Norovirus symptoms actually last for two days and people are contagious for an additional three days after the symptoms go away, according to Williams.
DHHS advises that frequently washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or as long as it takes you to sign the Happy Birthday song twice) is the best way to stop norovirus. But cleaning surfaces that have been contaminated with a bleach-based product is also important to protect family members or to stop its spread in places like day cares or nursing homes where there has been an outbreak.
While it is likely that norovirus is in more than just the eight counties reported by DHHS, Williams believes that after issuing the alert, “they will be able to get a handle on this pretty quickly.”